Full of Beans

Beauty (and dinner) is in the eye of the bean-holder

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Did you know dried beans have a season? Admittedly, we’d never suggest this query falls into the category of cocktail party conversation starter, but still—did you know that?

Yes, dried beans are found year round, but many of our local farmers are growing bean varieties destined for the soup pot now. Black turtle, New England’s own Soldier Bean, Jacob’s Cattle, Scarlet Beauty … the list is long and ever-changing. The virtues of a “fresh” dry bean are several: faster cooking time, brighter colors in the cookpot, and more vibrant flavor. Plus, local dried beans are an affordable local protein source.

New to the dried bean game? Read on.

Cooking dried beans

There is no one right way to cook a bean, but here are my favorite methods:

If I’ve planned ahead, I have soaked dry beans overnight in enough water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Then, I drain off the water, pour the beans into a pot, and cover with fresh water (again, by 2 inches). Add any aromatics like an onion, whole garlic cloves, herbs, or (my favorite) a Parmesan rind. Add a generous few pinches of salt. Bring pot to a simmer and cook until beans are tender, 45 to 90 minutes. Top off the pot with water if needed.

If I have not planned ahead, I just dump the beans into a pot (following seasoning instructions above) and cover with water. Bring to boil for 5 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender, 1 to 2 hours. Top off the pot with water as needed.

Store cooked beans in their cooking liquid. Don’t throw the liquid away—it makes an amazing base for soups. I’ve even used it as a liquid in my homemade bread!

Bean basics

It’s a good rule to wash and pick through beans before cooking. While bean shucking technology has gotten better, there is still a risk of small stones or dirt being in the bag.

One cup of dried beans will yield about 3 cups cooked. One pound of beans will yield 4 to 6 cups, depending on the bean.

The fresher the bean, the faster it will cook. Buy from stores or markets with good product turnover.

One cup of cooked beans contains up to 15 grams of protein, which makes them a great option if you’re trying to eat less meat.

Adding acid too early in the cooking process (before the beans have started to soften) will toughen the skins and extend cooking time by hours. Use baking soda to raise the pH of the cooking liquid, and the skins will soften quickly (this is great for preparing beans for refried beans or purées).