I would go out on a limb and say I am passionate about beans. My fiancé is a law student working part-time and, before the pandemic, I worked in hourly nonprofit and education jobs for the last few years. A tight grocery budget, obsession with cooking from scratch, and my vegetarian diet have led to a reliance and subsequent love on legumes.
The humble beans, or ever popular beans and rice combo, gets a lot of flak for being boring. Since quarantine started a month ago, my household of two has eaten between 1-2 bean dishes each week, and they are still delicious. Also, many people are intimidated by dried beans.
I originally made this bean guide after several of my friends and my parents could only find dried beans and found themselves at a loss of what to do with them. I wanted to share a simple dried bean method that works for most varieties, and then my two favorite ways to spice and serving suggestions. Beans are easy and forgiving. As long as you season well, add some fat, and cook low and slow, your beans should be tasty and creamy. I am pretty slapdash with measuring, and my beans turn out great. Let’s enjoy some inexpensive protein in our homes!
General Bean Prep
- Soaking: measure out some beans into a container at least four times the size. Keep in mind that they will expand, so unless you have a big family, I don’t recommend soaking more than a pound at a time. Add one tablespoon salt per pound of beans and a pinch of baking soda, top up with water, and let sit overnight with a towel over it. If you forget to do this, you can do a “quick soak” by bringing the beans to a boil and then turning the heat off. One hour later, you have soaked beans.
- It is a personal choice whether you want to drain the beans; the water has flavor but rinsing prevents gas. If you choose too, dump into a colander and rinse really well. However, always soak, drain and rinse red kidney beans. Unrinsed kidney beans can upset your stomach.
- Pour the beans and enough water to cover them like an inch or two into your pot or crockpot. Add another 1½ teaspoon of salt per pound of beans. Now is the fun part, seasoning! Bay leaves and garlic are always good, spices are fun, and some fat in the form of olive oil helps beans soften.
- Cook on low for 1 to 2 hours on the stove or 5 to 6 hours in a crock pot. Test for softness before moving on. Note: lentils cook in about 20 minutes.
- OPTIONAL: Add acid, like vinegar or citrus, or fresh herbs. Cook for 10 more minutes on the stove, or 30 minutes in the crockpot. This will add some brightness and freshness to an otherwise heavy dish. Taste, adjust and serve.
- To the finished beans, I like to add veggies, toppings and condiments. I try to hit at least two of the following categories for accoutrements: acid, freshness, fat, spice or crunch. What that means is I have added pickled onions, lime juice, cilantro, sour cream, hot sauce and pepitas to a bowl of black beans in the past, but on any given day, I probably only have two on hand (like just cilantro and pickled onions). Some variety of texture and flavor can help stave off bean fatigue. Remember, legumes are merely an inexpensive canvas for your culinary adventures. Below is my recipe for black beans and my fiancé’s Appalachian soup beans. Get creative and enjoy.
Jeanette’s So-Cal Black Beans
Seasonings for one pound of black beans:
- 1 tbsp paprika or chili powder
- 1 tbsp cumin
- If not adding fresh herbs at the end, 1 tbsp dried oregano or coriander
- 2 cloves of garlic (or 2 tsp garlic powder)
- Fat (I usually use a generous glug of olive oil)
- Bay leaf
- Optional: fresh jalapeno, or chipotles in adobo to taste.
Optional: In last minutes of cooking, add:
- a few sprigs fresh cilantro
- lime juice
- Acid: pickled onions, lime
- Freshness: cilantro, shredded cabbage, tomatoes, or bell pepper
- Healthy Fat: avocado, nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, etc. Or, try this amazing vegan queso.
- Spice: hot sauce, fresh peppers
- Crunch: pepitas
- Great on rice, with sweet potatoes, hunk of fresh bread, or in a taco
Adam’s Appalachian Pinto Beans and Cornbread
Seasonings for one pound of pinto beans:
- Big glug of olive oil, and 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp hot sauce or a fresh pepper
- 1 onion
Optional in last minutes of cooking, add:
- You can add fresh jalapenos, onions, or a splash of vinegar for freshness.
- Cornbread, always cornbread. Layer in the bowl with soupy beans.
- Acid: chowchow, sauerkraut or pickles
- Freshness: roasted vegetables, bell pepper
- Fat: Sweet potatoes
- Spice: hot sauce
P.S. The compounds in beans and other legumes can help enhance your gut biome, which is important especially now because a good immune system begins with the health of your digestive system. You can add beans, peas, and lentils to just about any dish, like spaghetti, or even on top of salads and pizza. To read more about the fascinating connection between what we eat and our guts, please click here.