Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Beans—the Easy Way

"Beans, beans, the magical fruit..." I won't finish that little ditty for you, but you know the reputation beans have and I bet you could use your imagination to come up with what rhymes with "fruit." Or you could Google it; there a whole Wikipedia article on it.

I never used to cook with beans. I bought a few pounds when I first stocked my pantry because they were so cheap and we were also just setting up our budget. I think I finally used up those beans. Most of them anyway... I had many excuses for not cooking with beans then: I always forgot to soak them the night before, I didn't have a good recipe, I never knew what the water-to-bean ratio should be, they turned out mushy and bland, Eli didn't really enjoy eating them...

Well, now I finally have a good method and since we have added three children to the family and no more money to the budget, I am finally cooking with beans and enjoying it! So here's my easy-peasy method as well as three reasons why you too might want to add a few beans into your meal rotation.

  1. Beans are cheap! For pennys (okay, quarters, pennys can't get you anything anymore) you can buy pounds of dried beans which will turn into pots of warm, hearty soup.
  2. Beans and rice (or any grain) make a complete protein. So your even though your husband will probably still go looking in the frige, in the stove, under the tablecloth for the meat that must be part of the meal somewhere! you can tell him that the beans and cornbread on his plate really will fill him up.
  3. Beans are a soluble fiber that will bind to the fatty acids in our digestive system so that they will be eliminated instead of recycled. The liver produces bile to digest fats and the more fats we eat, the more bile we will produce. Bile is also used to process out expended hormones (which are fat soluble) from our bloodstream. But as all this fatty bile goes through the digestive tract, some of it will be reabsorbed only to have to be re-processed out. It creates a vicious cycle where junk goes from bloodstream to liver to intestines to liver to intestines... Enter beans! Soluble fiber can not be reabsorbed so when it sticks to the debris-carrying fats everything will be cleaned out—kind of like my house after I finished "Project Simplify." Read this article for more information about how beans can cure morning sickness!
Bonus #4: If you regularly eat beans your body will begin to produce the right digestive enzymes and they will no longer cause that annoying side effect.

Convinced? If so, I will now show how you can take those dry beans rattling around in a jar on your pantry shelf to savory, steaming pot in time for dinner.

In the morning, as you are doing the breakfast dishes and thinking about what to make for dinner (life is pretty much one meal after another, right?) remember that neglected jar of beans. When you are done washing the oatmeal pot, put it back on the stove and measure in some beans. I've been using black beans because I love Mexican food and I serve them with taco stuff. For our size family we use about one cup per meal, but I usually make three cups at a time. They heat up just fine and freeze really well too, so you might as well make extra. Cover them with two or three times as much water—as they soak for the next few hours they will expand so leave plenty of room. (You could skip the soaking step, but traditionally it's supposed to make them healthier than the quick soak method.) Put the lid on and let them sit. Now go make lunch.

After nap time, when there's still a few hours till dinner, dump off the water, rinse the beans, and add some water back. This time they won't be expanding so only cover them enough that they will all be submerged, even as they simmer and some evaporates off. If you put in too little water, they won't cook evenly, but if you put in too much they will be too thin and, well, watery. Put the (lidded) pot on a burner and crank up the heat.

While they are coming to a boil, create the flavor of this pot of beans. Heat some oil in a skillet and saute a chopped onion. Once that's good and browned I add garlic, pepper and chili powder. Add whatever spices you like (depending on your taste and the type of bean) but remember that whatever you use will taste fuller if you saute it until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

When the skillet is one big mess of tastiness, dump some of the simmering bean liquid into it. This will release a cloud of steam and will make sure every yummy browned bit will come off the bottom of the skillet and end up in your beans. Turn off the heat, stir it around for a minute to let the liquid reduce and then dump it back into the pot.

Now turn down the heat under the beans (you may have already had to do this) and let the beans meet and get acquainted with the flavor you just introduced them to. As the pot simmers for the next hour or so with the lid on the beans will finish softening and they will become one with the flavor. Stir occasionally.

You may want to change the consistency towards the end of the cooking time by adding water if it looks too dry or by removing the lid and letting some of it boil away if it looks too thin. Don't forget to add salt to taste. Salt can inhibit softening, so I like to wait till the end.

Serve with rice, cornbread, tortillas, tortilla chips or whatever your heart desires. Include some taco meat in the menu if it will make your husband happy.


  1. I don't typically care much for soup, which reduces bean options. But I love adding them to rice pilaf and doing other things with them. And I was amazed to discover with Gilead that they do help morning sickness--though they barely seemed to touch the sickness I experienced this time around, they did occasionally help a wee bit!

  2. Thanks for this reminder! I just went and got a pot of beans started for tonight.
    I actually *really* like beans/rice and cornbread! It seems so hearty and almost a comfort food to me.
    Maybe part of what is comforting is that I just made 3 meals for about $2. :-)

  3. I love bean soup, and black beans are my favorite. They cook more quickly than the bigger beans, too, so forgetting the overnight soak isn't prohibitive. My favorite black bean soup is adding soaked black beans, water, chopped carrots, and beef soup bones to the crockpot and cooking it all day, then removing the bones and blending the beans so it's a nice thick soup. It is even better reheated the next day. And, with roasted red peppers blended in at the end, it is even company-worthy (at least, I think so!). Serving no-knead bread placates my husband, too. :)

    I have been wondering about good ways to incorporate beans into a summer menu plan....besides the obvious Mexican option.

  4. You've just inspired me to go back and try beans again :)