Beans are an often overlooked source of protein, complex carbohydrates, and many other nutrients. Growing up, we ate beans all the time, and I believe beans helped keep us healthy and strong throughout the years. Many people avoid cooking beans because they find the cooking process complex and overwhelming. However, cooking beans from scratch does not have to be an intimidating process.
Tips for Purchasing Beans
Cooking beans effectively actually begins at the store. Newer beans cook better and more evenly than old beans. Some beans at the supermarket have been stored for several years, which makes them much harder to cook. However, dried beans are also an excellent food to keep around in long-term storage or in emergency food storage as they can keep for many years without developing a bad taste.
When purchasing beans, look for the following signs to ensure you receive the freshest beans possible:
- Check the condition of the beans: Old beans have many splits, chips and cracks on the surface of the beans
- Look for local growers: If you can find beans sold locally, such as at a farmer’s market or co-op, then you have a much higher chance of finding fresh beans. Bonus- the beans will taste better too.
- Look for the packaging date: If you cannot find locally-sourced beans, then try to find out the package date on the beans. If the beans were packaged within a year, they will cook easier and taste better.
How to Cook Beans
Once you have purchased your beans, the next step is cooking. Many experts disagree on the best way to cook beans. Some recommend soaking the beans, while others believe soaking beans eliminates some of the nutrients. Whether you soak your beans or not is up to you. If you dislike the often unpleasant gassy side effect of beans, soaking and rinsing them will eliminate some of the problem.
If you are new to cooking beans, try this simple cooking method to get you started:
- Place the beans in a colander and sort out any rocks or broken beans. Rinse the beans in cold water to clean them.
- Soak the beans in water overnight. This will make them cook much faster. Rinse the beans again the following morning.
- Place the beans in a large, wide pan. The wider the pan, the better. Beans need a lot of space to prevent them from getting mushy.
- Cover the beans with two or three inches of water.
- Bring the beans to a boil, then turn the heat to low. Scoop off any foam created while boiling. Add flavorings, such as fat, or pieces of meat to enhance the flavor. Herbs and spices can also be used.
- Cook the beans on a low simmer until they soften. This usually takes between one and three hours. Keep the beans covered with water at all times.
Beans keep for several days after cooking. We often served our beans with rice, but you can also serve them as a soup, or as a side dish with other foods. Try adding beans to your menu for delicious, nutritious, and easy meals.