Monday, April 4, 2011

Ahead of the Bean

For years, I was unwilling to buy dry beans. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with them, or how to incorporate them into my schedule. I finally decided they were inexpensive enough that I could afford to destroy the food on accident.

It never happened (destroying food, I mean). It's easy to use them. I decide dinner one day in advance anyway; if I make it two days then I have time to soak the beans. Or I can soak extra beans and freeze them, then when I need them it's thaw-and-cook. So now on Taco Night we have homemade refried beans instead of the brand-name canned stuff. I'm still learning the recipe but I have the beans soaked, in the freezer and waiting for me. The home-soaked beans have a better texture than canned ones, as well.

To soak beans for a recipe that calls for canned beans, use about 1 cup of dried beans and remember that they'll need to cook a little longer than the canned beans. Keep an eye on how soft they are to adjust the time, or cook them a little in advance before adding to the recipe (see cooking directions below).

To be 'ahead of the bean,' I will soak a bag of beans starting on Friday, with a change of water on Saturday. The water from the soakings can be re-used for watering plants, if desired. On Sunday I put the beans in fresh water on the stove and cook until they mash easily against the side of the pot with a fork. Not smooshy-soft but with a bit of resistance before they mash. They are then cooled and packed into pint jars with water to cover (remember that 1" to 2" of space at the top). Then label, date, and freeze. I use pint jars for this because one jar is enough to make the refried beans or to add to soups & stews.

Cost-wise, most dried beans run about $1 a pound here. Canned beans run about $1.50 a can, and that bag of dried beans will make two to three cans worth of beans. So that $1 bag of beans is equivalent to $4.50 worth of canned beans. Plus, I've never seen cranberry beans or many other delicious varieties available canned.


  1. I am slowly converting the neighbours in my apartment building to dry beans. I make sure to have extra stock in my freezer, and each time anyone mentions that they are making a recipe with beans, I suggest that they try mine instead of their usual can. So far, three have converted (especially since I continue to supply cooked and bagged beans to them - they buy the beans, I cook them).

  2. I've developed a process that is work schedule friendly- I just put the beans in to soak before I go to work in the morning, and boil them when I get home. It usually takes about an hour and I can do other stuff while they boil, and then make dinner when they're about done. Easy! A lot of people who refuse to use dried beans say they don't have time, but who doesn't have time for that?