Cooking Beans With Tender Texture & Perfect Skins

And Brined Beans Are Less Gassy, Too

Autumn is soup season around here, and the soup pot is almost always on the stove. My younger housemates take hot soup to lunch every day, and I find their appreciation stimulating. I love to try out new ideas and experiment with variations on old favorites, but I can’t seem to make a SMALL pot of soup. Thus, it’s awesome to have hungry eaters ready to help me out.

I’m still enjoying eating plant-based meals and I am kind of astonished that I have not had any cravings for dairy. I love cheese of almost all kinds (except for pre-sliced, pre-wrapped yellow plastic cheese, of course) and I expected that doing without it would be challenging. So far, I’m happily exploring foods that don’t require cheese: I would rather do without than eat processed imitations of dairy, and the world is full of cuisines that don’t include dairy.

Perfect Beans, Every Time

A few years ago I was given an incredible gift of dried beans from Ayers Creek Farm, an organic farm near Portland that specializes in heritage European beans (among other delicious things). I was amazed at how totally lovely they were, cooking up perfectly tender and without broken skins. Since then, I’ve noticed that most beans are not so blessed. Store-bought beans may have been in storage for a long time; years, even. It can be a challenge to cook such beans properly, and it’s frustrating to go through the bother of soaking and cooking only to end up with mealy or tough-skinned results. Argh!

Happily, browsing through Harold McGee’s fascinating kitchen classic, On Food And Cooking; the science and lore of the kitchen, encouraged me to brine-soak dry beans before cooking them. If you haven’t ever seen this book, look at the local library and check it out if they have it. (Ask them to buy it if they don’t; it’s a must for cooks.) In a lengthy article on beans in various cultures, McGee lists many reasons for them to turn out tough, hard, or mushy, and suggests that soaking them in salted water before cooking can help.  It also reduces the oligosaccharides that cause gas, so it’s all good.

First Salty, Then Plain

Well! Sure enough, it totally does. The trick is to soak them in salted water over night, then rinse them well and cook them in plain water.   Beans take up about half the water they are going to in a couple of hours, but need 10-12 hours to fully hydrate. One they’ve had their overnight bath and rinse, they cook up quickly and are perfectly tender, with whole skins and a pleasing texture. Yea! In fact, if you use a pressure cooker, McGee points out that salt-presoaked beans can cook up in as little as 10 minutes.

The rule of thumb is to use 2-3 tablespoons of salt to a gallon of soaking water. Stir in the salt until fully dissolved, then add the dry beans and let them sit overnight. The next day, turn them out in a colander, rinse them, then soak them briefly (2-3 minutes) in cold water, and rinse again. Since excess cooking liquid leaches out bean flavor, just put them in a pot with water to cover by about an inch. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender. Depending on how dry the beans were, this could be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

Soy And Soy-Free Flavor Infusions

Adding salt at this point will help bring out the bean’s flavor, but I find they taste better when I add some shoyu or soy sauce instead. This is especially pleasing when you store beans in the fridge for a day or two, since the flavors will meld intriguingly. If you want a less-salty but still luscious flavor, try adding coconut aminos instead. This yummy stuff is something like Bragg’s, but is soy free and according to the label, it contains 65% less sodium than soy sauce. I’m using a kind called Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Aminos which lists as ingredients only organic coconut sap and sea salt but has a magical, complex flavor that my whole household is crazy about. It’s stupendous on steamed cauliflower or roasted turnips or in salad dressings or pretty much anything you can think of. Yum!

Another great way to flavor beans is to add chopped shallots, garlic, or onions at the very end of the cooking time, along with fresh or dried herbs. I like to use thyme, as well as oregano, basil, and savory (also good with green beans). It’s also lovely to top off your cooked beans or bean soups with a little drizzle of lemon- or garlic-infused olive oil and a few bits of fresh apple. Other good garnishes include garlic croutons, fresh cilantro and soft goat cheese (ok, dairy) or skinny ribbons of fresh basil and chopped cherry tomatoes. We are still harvesting the brilliantly flavorful Indigo children cherry toms; I keep leaving a few to see just how long we’ll be able to enjoy them.

A Very Good Soup

Here’s my current favorite, soup, a richly layered blend of black beans and vegetables that’s thick and luscious. I find myself using my immersion blender more and more, since it thickens soups beautifully without any need for other thickening agents and is so easy to clean up compared to a blender or food processor. You can make your soups smooth or chunky simply by taking more or less time to whirl the blender in the pot. It’s even kind of fun, but it is a really good idea to keep the blade under the soup’s surface or you’ll have splatters everywhere!

To make the vegetable broth, plop all your veggie scraps into a pot with water and sea salt and simmer it along side the soup until needed. I used carrot and potato peels, onion and garlic skins and root ends, celery and fennel ends, and just a few cauliflower trimmings (the cole clan can be a bit overwhelming).

Black Bean Soup With Garlic Croutons

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 shallots or garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cups cauliflower florets
3 cups cooked black beans with cooking liquid
1-2 tablespoons garlic-infused olive oil
1/2 cup garlic croutons (see below)

In a soup pot, heat oil, onion and salt over medium high heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower, reduce heat to low, cover pan and cook for 5 minutes to sweat vegetables. Add 1 cup water, cover pan and cook until vegetables are barely soft (8-10 minutes) Stir in beans and their liquid, bring to a simmer and simmer for 15-20 minutes to meld. Puree to desired consistency with an immersion blender or use a potato masher. Serve hot, garnished with garlic-infused oil and croutons. Serves 4-6.

Making Marvelous Croutons

We eat a lot of salads here and we all love the crunch and savor of herbed and garlic flavored croutons as garnish. Since homemade croutons taste much better than store bought ones (which are apt to be a bit stale, if not rancid), we make them several times a week. Whenever the oven is on for roasting vegetables or whatever, I stick in a pan of croutons as well, since they vanish like the wind. I often use Dave’s Killer Bread as a base, since the end pieces are too thick for my taste; they make terrific croutons. If you don’t care for rosemary, just leave it out….

Garlic Rosemary (Maybe) Croutons

2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon rosemary, minced (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups day-old (or older) whole grain bread
(preferably with seeds), cubed

Pour oil into a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with garlic, rosemary (if using) and sea salt. Gently toss the bread cubes and any crumbs in the oil with your hands to coat fairly evenly. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or at 400 for 8-10 minutes or to desired crispness. Store in a tightly sealed container (preferably glass) for up to a week. Makes about 2 cups.

This entry was posted in Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cooking Beans With Tender Texture & Perfect Skins

  1. I was always told to be very careful cooking beans in a pressure cooker, since the bean “scum” or whatever you call it, can easily block the vents. Do you not find this to be true? I have never done it because of that concern.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      I think older models were indeed a bit tricky (I vividly recall a most unfortunate incident involving a great deal of hot pumpkin pulp and the kitchen ceiling). However, modern pressure cookers seem to be more reliable and less prone to disaster. Though I don’t own one anymore, my kids use their to cook beans several times a week without problems. I know several people who swear by their electric pressure cookers, which turn themselves off so you can’t forget. Hope that helps!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *