To bring out their natural goodness and flavor, dry beans need to be soaked before cooking. The process is simple and ensures great taste and beautiful beans! There are two methods for soaking beans:
- The Traditional Method: In a large pot, add 3 cups of cold water to each cup of beans (or 6 cups for each pound.) Soak 8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Drain and rinse the beans.
- The Quick Method: In a large pot, add 3 cups of hot water to each cup of beans (or 6 cups for each pound.) Bring to a boil and cook the beans at medium heat for 2 minutes. Cover the pot and let the beans stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans. After either method of soaking, simmer beans about 1 to 2 hours or until tender. To prevent foam or froth while cooking, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to simmering water.
- Hard facts. When soaking and cooking dry beans, resist the urge to add anything other than fresh, cold water. Salt and acidic ingredients like tomatoes, citrus juice, vinegar, wine, or mustard inhibit the absorption of liquid and stop the softening process. Once hardening agents are added, the bean will not soften any further. Also, make sure to increase soaking and cooking times when using hard water.
- Know when to say when. How do you know when beans have soaked enough? Soaking rehydrates the beans and prepares them for further cooking. Slice a soaked bean in half. If the center is opaque, your beans need to be soaked longer.
- A Taste Test. To check doneness during cooking, some bean aficionados recommend blowing on one or two beans spooned from the cooking pot. If they are done, the skins will burst. Want a foolproof way to test? The American Dry Bean Board recommends tasting. After ¾ of the cooking time has elapsed, try a taste test. Beans should be tender, but not mushy. Beans vary in cooking time according to the age of the bean, size or type of the cooking pot, simmering temperatures, and even the type of water (e.g. hard or softened.)
Soak separately. In the time it takes one bean variety to become tender, another can become mushy. Generally, it is important to soak and cook black beans and white beans separately. Always rinse black beans to remove liquid which otherwise blackens foods the beans are added to or combined with.
- Shaken, not stirred. To retain the shape of soft beans to be used in salads and sautéed dishes, carefully shake the pot rather than stirring it near the end of the cooking process.
- Cut down sugar and sodium. Soaking and rinsing dry beans rids the beans of complex sugars that sometimes cause stomach gas. You can also reduce the complex sugars by draining and rinsing canned beans. The sodium content of canned beans is also reduced by 1/3 if you drain and rinse the beans before use.
- The bean jar. Because jars of dry beans look attractive in the kitchen, many cooks like to display them. Just make sure beans are stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry location. Also, keeping beans out of the direct sunlight will prevent discoloration and a change in flavor.
- On the bean trail. The supermarket or grocery store isn’t the only place to find beans. They can be purchased at most natural food stores, ethnic grocery stores, gourmet shops and mail-order companies.
Anti-Gas Cooking Tips
Beans sometimes cause gas because of natural chemicals called oligosaccharides. These are sugar molecules whose chemical composition sometimes makes them difficult for human digestion. They are passed to the lower intestine without being broken down, and there they do their damage. Fortunately the gas-producing effects of beans can be minimized by some very simple steps:
- Purchase the most recent crop of dry beans. The fresher the bean, the fewer gastrointestinal problems you are likely to experience.
- Always soak and drain your beans first. The longer the beans are soaked, the more oligosaccharides are released into the soaking water. Drain and rinse the beans before cooking, always discarding the water used to soak.
- Commercial natural enzyme products, such as Beano, break down the complex sugars in beans making them easier to digest.