April 28, 2008

How to Cook - 4: Beans Are Easy, Cheap, Good

Beans are so humble, unless you consider the hericot vert. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride in any menu, beans are nevertheless so varied, so favorful, so nutritious, and so cheap, that they're just plain smart to buy and serve your family.

How to Cook Beans

1. The Traditional Way.
My mother taught me to pour the bag of beans onto the kitchen table, and to slowly pull bean by bean off the edge and into a large, deep bowl. This eliminated any small pebbles that managed their way into the packaging. Once the beans were safely culled and transferred into the big bowl, the bowl was filled with water, covered with a cheesecloth, and left to set overnight.

The next day, the beans would have puffed up with all the water, and they were ready for the big Bean Pot. (Yep, my mom had a special pot just for beans. Here in Texas, refried beans and pinto beans are important parts of both TexMex meals as well as any respectable barbeque.)

The beans were drained and placed into the pot (draining being important to stave off (ahem) gas (ahem), and seasonings were added. After being brought to a boil, the heat was lowered and the beans sat on the back burner, simmering away; their smell filling the house with that great cozy feeling of something cooking on the stove. Periodically, you checked the pot and stirred the beans, adding water if it was needed, until the beans were done.

2. The Slow Cooker Way.
This is a method I've tried when I've been under a deadline and not able to watch the bean pot (yep, I have one of my own now) during the day -- or when I wake up and remember that I forgot to soak the beans. You still cull the beans, although it's been awhile since I've found a pebble in my beanbag, but you omit the overnight soak. Pour your culled beans into a large slow cooker, add your seasonings, and fill with water. Turn it to the low setting. You want lots of water here, bean juice isn't a bad thing if you've been generous on the water, but it's trouble if those beans don't have enough water here: they didn't get their soak time, and they have to hydrate. They're starting out dried, remember. Around eight hours later, you'll have a nice batch of beans.

Different Beans to Try, Seasonings to Use, Meals to Make, Why Bother

Types of beans
Pinto beans
Kidney beans
Butter beans
Black beans
Lima beans
Navy beans
Azuki beans

Seasonings
Onion
Garlic
Salt Pork
Bacon
Ham
Chicken
Chilis
Pepper
Salt
Cilantro
Tomatoes


Good Recipe Sites
Crockpot Beans - lots of recipes here
The Bean Bible

Why Beans?

Beans are among the best buys in the marketplace. They're very economical - plus they are very, very nutritious. Studies show they fight colon cancer, if eaten several times a week. Eat them with rice, and you have a complete protein substitute which is good for you and great for your budget.

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