by Chef Molly Beverly
So, what are you going to do with all those dry beans you bought?
First of all, congratulations for making a wise and practical purchase. Now, consider the bean. These little packages are an excellent pick for the pandemic pantry, from several angles. Dry beans are non-perishable. They keep forever. (Beans have been found in archaeological digs hundreds of years old, and they still sprout!) For storage all you need is an airtight container, like a jar or a five-gallon bucket, which can hold 25 pounds of beans. Beans are nutritional powerhouses and have real health benefits. They are as easy to cook as boiling water. Make a big batch — they freeze well for quick meals.
Are beans boring? No way, Beans are the mainstay of many spicy, exciting cuisines the world over. Think Indian curry, Mexican mole, French cassoulet, Italian pasta fagioli, Southwest chili, Cajun red beans and rice, Ethiopian berbere, Thani noodles, and Middle Eastern falafel.
Beans are seeds. They regenerate themselves, and they are among the easiest plants to grow. Beans are healthy for the planet, too. Factory farms producing industrial meat, dairy and eggs are disastrous for the environment, contributing to global warming, soil, water, air and land pollution, and overuse of pesticides and herbicides. Switching to a vegetable-based diet rich in beans will have the cumulative effect of slowing or even reversing these environmental threats.
Now let’s get down to the basic cooking rules.
Cardinal Rule #1: Cook beans in advance. Make a lot. I freeze extras in four-cup containers and enjoy the luxury of having beans ready and on hand in minutes.
Cardinal Rule #2: Use a lot of water. Beans expand three times over, and you never want to experience burned beans, they're nasty. Plus oligosaccarides are water-soluble (see the Gas Box below for more information). For each cup of beans use four cups of water.
Cardinal Rule #3: Begin with a good soak. Put them in a pot with a lot of water. Bring to a boil, then take them off the heat, cover and let sit for four to twelve hours.
Cardinal Rule #4: Cook beans until they are very tender. Taste them to make sure they're soft. If they need more time, give it to them. Undercooked beans are hard to digest.
15-45 minutes for lentils, split peas, mung beans, and blackeye peas. No soaking required.
Two to four hours for common beans, depending on age. Soaking recommended.
Two or more hours for older beans, garbanzo and tepary beans. Soaking essential.
A note on labor- and time-saving devices: slow cookers and crock pots were invented for beans. They cook beans perfectly while you sleep or work. Instant pots (and their non-electronic antecedents, pressure cookers) cut the cooking time to less than an hour.
What you don’t need to do
Beans do not need to be seasoned or sauced when they are being cooked. Some of my biggest professional cooking nightmares revolve around beans that just wouldn’t get soft, and that was because they were being cooked with salt or sauces or tomatoes that changed the chemistry. Add spices after cooking. Plain cooked beans absorb flavors, so make them plain and use them generously.
Bean cuisine and my favorite incarnations
Cooked beans are universally welcomed and slip into meals so easily. Try fried eggs, potatoes and lima beans for a bean breakfast. Slide them onto the salad plate and top them with dressing. Toss them into soups. Heat up the skillet with a little oil, garlic and spices, and pour in the beans for a great side dish. Then mash them with olive oil for a dip. Beans with pasta. Beans and rice. Beans and potatoes. Beans and steak. Beans and tortillas with salsa. For really good ideas get a copy of the book Cool Beans by Joe Yonan, food editor for The Washington Post.
Another thing you can do with those beans is plant them! Every one of them is a life package, waiting and equipped to grow and reproduce itself and make more food for you. Practice some resilience gardening. Check out the delightful and instructive video Growing Beans from Sowing to Harvest at GrowVeg.com.
Embrace beans. Fill the pantry. They’ll get you through hard times with good food.
These are the bean dishes I’m excited about right now, with links to good recipes.
I take liberties with recipes all the time and regularly substitute one bean for another, so if you bought 50 pounds of pinto beans (a good idea!), they’ll pretty much work in any of these standard bean recipes.
Middle Eastern hummus has become everyone’s sweetheart healthy snack. It’s everywhere in many variations. It’s super easy and cheap to make with garbanzo or white beans.
Chocolate hummus is my new love for fulfilling that rich-dessert yearning. Use the same procedure as regular hummus, throw everything in the blender and buzz. Watch out for the kids, they’ll be fighting you for this.
For a kid-friendly snack or topping, try Chickpea Croutons. Toss cooked garbanzos with oil and spices and roast them in a hot oven. I discovered these when teaching kids cooking. It's easy, and the kids love them.
Pasta e Fagioli is what happens when you turn beans into a creamy soup and float pasta in it, a classic Italian zuppa perfumed with garlic, rosemary and sage. Drizzle with olive oil and enjoy.
The next two recipes use green lentils, red lentils or split peas, which are interchangeable. I just used up the 25-pound sack of lentils I bought a few years back. Time to order more!
Subzi Dalcha (ginger, split pea and vegetable curry) uses red lentils or split peas as the sauce for potatoes and vegetables, and kicks it up with turmeric, cumin, chilies, garlic, ginger and cilantro. Wow! It's great over rice. Start to finish, this recipe takes an hour.
Neera’s Dahl: I treasure this recipe and have made many gallons during my professional career. Try it, you’ll like it!
As I said before, lentils take minutes to cook. Makes about eight servings.
1/3 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and minced
1 1/2 pounds bok choy, cabbage or other greens
2 cups dry lentils
1 tablespoon whole cumin
2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice the greens finely. In a dry skillet over medium heat toast the cumin pods, stirring constantly until they begin to smoke. In a large pot, sauté garlic in oil until limp, about two minutes. Add greens and sauté for another two or three minutes. Add dry lentils, cumin and pepper and sauté another minute. Add enough water to cover the lentils plus one inch. Simmer for about 45 minutes or until lentils are tender. During the last few minutes of cooking add lemon juice and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Chef Molly Beverlyis Prescott’s creative food activist and teacher. As Chair of Slow Food Prescott she champions community gardens and sustainable food education.