A Pot of Beans
I love beans, every kind and in every form. Bean soup, bean salad, and bean dip. Perhaps my kids also love beans because they are eaten almost everyday in our house. I like to serve them often because they are not good meateaters and beans have tons of protein. They are also nice to have on hand to have with lunch or for dinner when a babysitter comes; nights I usually reserve for boxed mac and cheese or pizza.
You can buy every kind of canned bean, however, only the garbanzo bean, or chickpea, makes it out of the can with an appetizing texture. I always have several 25-ounce cans of garbanzo beans on hand to add to salad or for the kids to munch on before dinner. I will address canned garbanzo beans in another posting. For this posting, I want to give praise and instruction for dealing with dried beans. Cooking a pot of beans is very economical and satisfying. Once the basics are observed, cooking beans is a very flexible procedure. Whether you add several aromatics that have been lounging in the fridge or just have a bay leaf on hand, the beans will still be great.
The most commonly used canned beans, Pinto beans, white beans, often called Cannellini and Navy, and Red Kidney beans, hardly even tumble out of the can. They need to be coaxed with water and a spoon. However, they do have their uses. After canning, they are already on their way to being a bean dip or puree for a soup. It kills me when I see a soup recipe using these canned beans whole; they have no texture and can hardly take anymore heating. However, when you start with dried beans, you will have a bean soup with texture, beans to add to a salad or beans for the kids to munch on before a meal, which mine often do. The following recipe uses Pinto beans cooked in a way that an Italian would cook beans for a simply dressed bean salad or pasta salad. You can use any beans with this method. The herbs in this recipe offer an Italian flavor profile. If you want these beans with some heat for Mexican food, you could add a dried chili, a few cilantro stems and some dried oregano.
Dried beans double in size after cooking. This makes about 5 cups of cooked beans.
2 cups dried beans, I used Pinto beans
1 bay leaf
fresh sage leaves, 10-15 leaves, on the stem, optional
1 stalk of fresh rosemary, optional
3 garlic cloves, smashed
The following can be added if you have them and can be in questionable condition: a celery stalk, a carrot, an onion split in half, a tomato split in half, a few parsley stems
1. Sort 2 cups of dried beans (you are looking for stones) and place in a large soup pot. Cover by several inches with cold water and let sit overnight. There is some debate whether use should cook them in this water. I have read the water either contains their undesirable gas or a great deal of nutrients. If I am using dark beans, I reuse the water because it contains so much of the beautiful dark color.
2. The next day, when you have an hour: place the pot of beans on the stove on medium. You may need to add some more water. Add the ingredients listed above and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low, uncovered. If and when the pot accumulates white foam, skim that off with a slotted spoon (this is the gas that can be hard to digest). Keep a vigilant watch of the beans and test often for doneness. Some dried beans cook in 20 minutes, others take much longer. Once the beans are almost done (you want them to be soft, but, al dente) ADD A FEW TABLESPOONS OF SALT, cover and remove from heat. If you add salt at the beginning, it will toughen the skins and increase cooking time. I like to set them aside to absorb the salt and because the last several minutes of cooking can take them from underdone to mush fast.
3. At this point, you are well on your way to a soup. Try the cooking water. This should be flavorful. Most good bean soups do not use chicken stock, but, rely on this water to be the foundation of the soup. If you want the beans for a salad, strain them and remove any of the cooking vegetables. You could also remove a few cups of the beans for the kids and resume making a soup with the rest (perhaps removing some of the water).
4. The warm beans should be dressed while they are warm. An Italian would simply dress them with some vinegar or lemon, good olive oil, a handful of fresh herbs, chopped, and salt and pepper. My kids will just pick at beans served in this simply way for either lunch or dinner.