One of the best things to have in your pantry is a supply of dried beans. They are a great source of nutrition and provide just as much or more protein as meat but they can be stored for years without the need of refrigeration. There are endless uses in soups but you can also make a number of other great things like tacos or bean salads or even sprout them for Chinese meals or to get some greens in the winter.
Not needing refrigeration means beans can be used in emergencies or on camping trips to reduce the weight of food you pack in to your camp sight. But they can also reduce your food bills all year because they normally cost much less than canned or frozen beans or other options like meats.
Most dried beans cost about $1 per pound but special varieties may be slightly higher. If you see sales you should grab them because they won’t go bad any time soon.
A pound of beans will go pretty far. This week I made a large pot of lentil soup with one 1 pound bag of lentils, 1 large can of diced tomatoes, 4 stalks of celery and 6 potatoes. I also threw in a half a bag of slightly freezer burnt green beans that cooked up really well. The result was about 6 quarts of soup and although I will probably eat all of it you could also freeze the soup in plastic solo cups with a rubber band and plastic wrap. That works really well since canning soup does take special preparation and a pressure caner.
The Easy Way to Rehydrate Dried Beans
The hardest thing about using dried beans in our recipes is rehydrating them and ending up with a bean that is not dry or will not accept flavoring.
Some people say that soaking them over night works for them.. I think those people are lying .. but in any case you don’t really want to plan your meal 24 hours ahead and have a big pot of beans soaking. It might be an option for campers that could set aside pot to reduce the amount of cooking but for the rest of us we can get this done in about 2 hours.
The first thing you want to do is have two bowls for cleaning the beans. You want one large bowl that can hold all the beans and then a small bowl that is preferably white to sift the beans for dirt and stones. You will find that most bags of beans still have a little dirt in them and you don’t want to bite into a stone and crack a tooth.
Take the bag of beans as if you were going to open it and hold the end.. shake the bag so any stones or dirt hopefully will fall to the bottom.
Cut a small one inch hole in the top of the bag and pour very slowly into your small white bowl looking for any debris.
You should only pour one layer of beans into the small bowl then dump the clean beans into the larger bowl and keep doing that.
By using the 2 bowl method you can easily pick out anything you might find and the larger bowl will remain clean.
Once you have sorted for anything large you want to wash the beans. You can place them in a pot of cold water and use your hand then pour them into a colander or sifter to drain the water.
Fill a large pot full of water. You will need at least twice the volume of water as you have beans so use a large pot.
Bring the water to a boil then add your dried beans. DO NOT ADD SALT OR SEASONING.
Once the water returns to a boil you want to cook the beans for 2 to 7 minutes. Lentils which are thin and small only take about 2 minutes.. an average northern bean or read bean will take 5 minutes and large beans like lima may take 7 minutes.
The beans will still be hard but you can turn off the stove and let them sit with a lid on the burner you were using. This will continue the cooking over about an hour. You should check the beans after about 30 minutes and then every 15 minutes until they are soft.
Do not mix the beans with a spoon just let them sit but when you test for softness dig down for some to make sure the whole pot and not just the top are ready.
At this point you are ready to add them to your recipe. I normally prefer to give the soft beans one more rinse or at the very least get rid of the cooking water. Often it is very cloudy and will muddy your soup and some people say it is a cause for indigestion or gas.
If you find your beans are not getting soft all the way through it may not be your fault. If the beans are very old .. over 3 years or have been dried improperly you can end up with a slightly crunchy bean. On the other hand letting the beans sit after you boil them is the most important step. You don’t want to salt or season while they are rehydrating because this can also cause problems. Wait until they are soft.
Also lentils take very little to rehydrate but any bean can end up overcooked. If your beans are splitting if the skins are split then you boiled too long.
Also you can not boil them until they are soft .. they need to sit and soak in the warm water.