Vegan Mofo: Skills- Cooking beans from scratch

Today's essential vegan skill is cooking beans from scratch- that is, transforming them from their dried state on the bottom shelf of the grocery store aisle into a big pot of saucy deliciousness. Why should you bother to learn this?
 1.) Buying a big bag of dried beans is cheaper than buying as many cans of beans! (And that's saying something, because canned beans are already kind of cheap.)
2.) You have more control over the flavor. Ever noticed all the gross salty water they pack in there?
3.) You get to have cred! Like, look! I took something that could take about ten seconds with a can opener, and stretched it over 2 days!

Ok, maybe I'm not selling this correctly. The truth is, if they had canned black beans in Europe readily available, maybe I would never have learned this "skill." But I still think people should try it once, because it can make a huge difference in the taste, and also, don't you want to know that you COULD make beans from dried if you needed to? If you were shipped off to war somewhere with no canned beans? And besides, you might find out that the taste is so much better that you always want to do it this way. And here's how!

Skill two: Cooking beans from scratch!
1.) Take your beans and spill 'em out somewhere to sort through them. My technique is to pour them about 1/4 a cup at a time onto a kitchen towel on the counter, sort them for rocks and broken pieces, then gather the towel at the top and dump it into my soaking container. (In this way, you can avoid spilling beans all over your kitchen at 11 o'clock at night like I always do.)

2.) Now for the soaking. As I demonstrated yesterday, you just need some kind of big container in which you place you beans and fill it with cold water. The best thing is to do this before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge, then it gets to sit the next day and they should be really ready by the time you want to cook them. (If you are making black beans, why not soak some cashews too and make cashew sour cream?)

3.) Alright now comes the rigorous part. After you beans have soaked as long as you can bear it (10-12 hours is usual for me) then you can start you cooking. Drain the beans in a colander than cover them with a few cups of fresh water in a large pot and bring that baby to a boil. Then reduce to simmer and cover, with a little room for steam to escape. (If you get some white foam at first you can skim it off with a spoon, though it won't hurt you.) How long you let it sit and simmer depends on many things: what quantity of beans you are cooking, how long they soaked, what phase the moon is in, and most of all, whether or not you have dinner guests. But I have found that the most common length of time is between 2 and 2 and 1/2 hours for 1 cup beans. You will have to keep adding more water periodically. (But don't add salt until the end!)

4.) In the meantime, you fry a bunch of stuff to put in them when they are done! (Terry Hope Romero calls this, "sofrito!") This is where your creativity comes in.  Good combos:
-Simplicity: garlic, onions and peppers
-mushrooms, garlic and onions
-potatoes, carrots, onions
-small tempeh pieces, peppers, onions
Last night I fried up some quartered plantains first of all, then setting them aside, used the same hot pan to cook a bunch of onions and garlic. It doesn't matter whether they stay hot because you are just going to add them into your beans.

5.) Now that you've done that, painted your nails, replied to all of your emails, and whatever else you can accomplish is 2 and 1/2 hours, you can check on your beans. When they are perfect, it won't be huge effort to chew one and they will be easily mashable with a fork. At that time, you can add in your "sofrito", as well as some canned or fresh diced tomatoes (1/2 cup per cup of beans is good, but add more for saucier beans), and some cumin. I also add in cayenne pepper at this point, and a pinch of paprika. Beans eat up spices so you need not be stingy, and feel free to be creative. (Like if you are one of those cilantro types.)

6) Let the beans cook another 10-15 minutes with all the new ingredients folded in, or as long as it takes to cook some rice. Taste and adjust salt and spices. Serve with rice and some cashew sour cream, or if you're in the mood, with hot sauce, pickled onions, avocados and mango... whatever you have on hand!

It may not be the most gorgeous dish, but its so delicious.

Q: "But T, this is just for black beans! Is it the same for other kinds of beans?"

A: Kind of! You can use a similar process for other types of beans (except for lentils), but they take different amounts of time and go better with other flavors. Red beans take about 1 and 1/2 hours, and go great with just garlic and onions and a tons of spices (served with coconut rice, yum!) Adzuki beans take less time, chickpeas take more. But once you've experimented with dried beans you will find that the process doesn't vary much and there is a big reward to cooking them this way- namely, the taste.

What do you prefer, canned or dried?

Song of the Day: MGMT- It's working


Dawn said...

Hi T! Found you in the MoFo feed and I love this post, you are hilarious. AND, you describe perfectly the conundrum of cooked vs. canned beans...

I have made beans from scratch and find it just way way too time consuming, and the beans just do not come out as nice and tender as they are in the can no matter what I do. (And I don't salt until the end, really!) So, I use a lot of canned beans. But, I am going to try the dried ones again soon.

Have you ever used a pressure cooker to do beans? I have heard that is the way to get them really tender and save some time, too. I don't have one, but was thinking about getting one just for, guess what? Beans.

I totally WANT to love to cook dried beans, I really do...I'm just not sure it is worth it.

<3 VF

adriennefriend said...

I most certainly prefer dried. The taste is much deeper, beefier, richer, umami-er! (Yes, beans have umami!) Making a chickpea dish with less than freshly-boiled really affects the quality - same goes for black and red beans, in my opinion. I don't use a pressure cooker so I let them soak overnight and then an hour's worth of boiling usually does the trick. Yum!!!! And when I do chickpeas, I invariably scoop out a cup, sprinkle with sea salt, and go to town!

Mandee said...

I love that you're doing some posts on essential skills and I think cooking beans from scratch is a great skill even though it takes some time ;)