Aren’t these beans beautiful? They should be showcased in a mason jar to bring some color and warmth to my ugly, scratched, white laminate countertop (it’s okay; I rent). Or used instead of rocks or glass marbles in the bottom of the vase on my dinner table. But I boiled them up with some onion and cilantro, and ate them instead.
Clearly, interior design is not my strength, unless decorating the lining of my stomach counts. (I have a feeling it doesn’t.)
But cooking dried beans? That I can do. Especially when they are beautiful, relatively fresh dried beans. Not those sad ones that have been sitting in a bag on a grocery store shelf for 10 years. Even bulk bin beans, which are usually in more optimal shape than the plastic bagged variety, aren’t quite as good – although they’ll do in a pinch. But colorful beans with fun names like Rio Zape and Midnight Black! Exclamation point-worthy indeed! And check out these multi-colored Zarco beans! Are you excited about cooking beans yet? I am.
If you think canned beans are cheap, dried are even cheaper. They’re a lawyer-paying-off-massive-law-school-debt’s dream. Heirloom varieties are a touch more expensive, but even then, $5 in dried heirloom beans will feed you for five days. The only meat you’ll find equally cheap that can also feed you for as many days is chicken liver: I dare you.
Not a fan of canned beans? In my experience, that’s even more reason to try cooking dried beans at home. Not only do they have much meatier and more varied flavor (especially the heirlooms!), but the texture is creamier in beans that should be creamy and firmer in beans that should be firm.
If you use fresh heirloom beans, the cooking time is vastly diminished compared to the 10 year-old grocery shelf beans. I don’t even soak them. That’s right. I said it. No soaking for heirlooms. (And because I know some of you are wondering, no, that doesn’t make me gassy.) But if you have an extra 6 hours, feel free to let the beans sit in some water while you take a nap, stalk me on Facebook, or watch back-to-back episodes of The Wire – your cooking time will be cut down by about 30 percent.
How to Cook Dried Beans
1 c. dried beans yields approximately 2 1/2 c. cooked beans (five 1/2-c. servings)
As I cook throughout any given week, I toss the ends and leftover pieces of onion, celery, other veggies, and fresh herbs into a freezer bag, and retrieve those pieces from the freezer for cooking beans and making stocks at a later time. It’s easy and convenient, and then you don’t feel compelled to buy an entire bunch of celery when you only need a stalk or two, or waste money on fresh herbs when the stems will flavor the broth just fine.
6 c. water
1 c. dried beans
1/2 yellow onion
1 celery stalk
1/2 c. cilantro or parsley stems
1 1/2 tsp. salt
Put water, dried beans, celery, and stems in a pot over medium-high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, and then reduce to the lowest heat that will still allow beans to simmer (i.e., bubbling very gently).
Simmer until tender, checking every 30 minutes or so to make sure water is still covering the beans and veggies; add minimal amounts of hot water on an as-needed basis. (For both Rancho Gordo’s midnight black beans and zarco beans, this took 1 1/2 hours; for Rancho Gordo’s rio zape beans, this took 2 hours. For other beans that may have been sitting on store shelves for years, this may take even longer. Either way, at this point, you can add salt and any acidic foods – do NOT add them before beans are cooked through – such as lime, lemon, vinegar, or tomatoes.)
Remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature.
Store beans in airtight, refrigerated container for up to 5 days (store the bean broth together or separately, depending how you intend to use it). If you haven’t used them by then, drain and freeze the beans for later use.