I literally know nothing about beans...
April 1, 2012 4:51 AM   Subscribe

I literally know nothing about beans...

Okay, this is awful. The only beans I know about and have ever eaten are canned beans in tomato sauce (Heinz, Bachelors, what have you). I have them on toast and that is it.

Obviously I know other beans exist: kidney and black eyed, and?

I'm under doctor's orders to work on my cholesterol which recently clocked in at 6.9 and I'm 28 years of age. Beans (and lentils) seem to be this whole, huge food group I've never experienced. (I am not suggesting eating beans will lower cholesterol, I am just looking for ways to eat without aggravating it)

I've seen bags of dried beans in stores, but have zero idea what to do or where to start. I've seen kidney beans in a can - wouldn't these be full of salt, though? Do I just drain and serve? On their own or can I add stuff?

It's so embarrassing, but I really need someone to explain beans to me. Kidneys look white and squishy, can I sub those in for pasta/gnocchi (i.e. hot kidney beans with a tomato sauce? Or is that yuck?]

If you eat beans a lot, please tell me what you do with them, how you integrate them into everyday cooking. I hear 'beans and rice' bandied about a lot as a meal, but always picture Heinz beans mixed with rice...
posted by Chorus to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
Simplest approach: dump that bag of dried beans in a big pot of water in the morning and soak them all day, then boil them for a couple of hours in the evening. (Or soak them overnight and cook them in the morning for lunch.) Then throw them into or on top of any old sauce you care to cook up, but a vegan sauce is best for you. Keep the salt low and use other spices to make up for it, and use olive oil, not butter, for your fats if you're going to be frying stuff for the sauce or to eat with the bean on the side. I throw in lots of tomatoes and onions, maybe some peppers. Almost any vegetable mix you like is going to be good for you as long as you don't dump a lot of salt and animal fats (including butter) into the mix.
posted by pracowity at 5:21 AM on April 1, 2012

For economies sake, we only buy dried beans. We cook beans very fast with the 90-Minute Beans recipe. It seems to be the quickest, easiest way to make dried beans into edible beans.

I would reccomend picking up a copy of Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." The section on beans is quite nice, he also has about a million different recipes that are meat free and meat light, that are quite wonderful. Beans are the perfect candidate to spice up with a tiny bit of meat, to make them shine.

My favorite way to eat lentils, is to take 1 strip of bacon (if you're going meat lite buy some expeennnnnnsive bacon, just 1 strip of it at the meat counter...or the farmers market! Go nuts), cut it into chunks, render the fat and get it kind of crispy. Take the bacon out of the pan, and dice it up. Dice up some Shallots (or red onion if you're in a pinch) and cook them low and slow for about 20 minutes in the rendered fat. Add in a can of diced tomatoes (no salt added). Put the bacon chunks back in the pot and let them all get to know each other. Get some water boiling, and throw in 1 cup of lentils. After they're done to your liking (lentils can be a bit toothier like pasta, or a bit mushier like mashed potatoes, your call) drain them, rinse them, and throw them in the pot too.

If you're really vibing on it, you can cook an egg however you like it and throw it on there, or top the dish with a little bit of Parmesan cheese. Salt & pepper to taste at the end.

This meal also has the virtue of being incredibly inexpensive.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:25 AM on April 1, 2012 [16 favorites]

I love beans and lentils! They taste good and are so cheap.

I always start with dried beans or lentils and not canned. I prefer black beans, pinto beans, and green lentils based on taste but they are all very similar in terms of preparation. It's worth mentioning though that the commonly sold red lentils (or orange/yellow) are hulled and are prepped slightly differently. Once you've bought your dried legumes, the first step is briefly rinsing them and then soaking in a lot of water, which speeds the cooking process, improves their digestibility, and reduces anti-nutrients like phytates. I soak mine overnight or up to 24 hours. Next, pour off the water used for soaking, rinse once more, and replace with fresh water (the water should be about twice the volume of beans). Now put a lid on the pot, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for two hours and watch along the way so too much water doesn't boil off and the beans burn. Near the end, remove the lid and boil off excess water to reduce the legumes to whatever consistency you like.

Of course, that's the basic cooking procedure. The best part is adding various flavors and spices. There are tons of recipes online [1,2,3] that usually involve things like onions, garlic, cumin, etc. And you'll definitely want to salt them to taste, near the end of cooking or after.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:28 AM on April 1, 2012

Feijoada is a bean stew that`s the brazilian national dish. The original version is made with pork, not very good for cholesterol. But there are many good vegetarian options available.
posted by Tom-B at 5:29 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

So most beans you buy dried require soaking, or a serious boil on their own before you start cooking stuff with them. Check what the type you buy needs. If the back of the packet doesn't say, the internet will. Dried beans are stupid cheap and you can play around with anything that catches your eye.

You will no doubt get a lot of great answers and links to resources here, but here are some really easy beginner tips:

Use darker beans as a substitute for minced meat/ground beef in things. It is an easy swap (and minced meat is so often a pretty crappy thing to buy) Lasagne is easy, but I wouldn't (personally) do a bean 'bolognese'. What I do enjoy with pasta is some tomato, garlicy/chilli and cannellini beans.

Hit up an Indian restaurant and try out their dahls. You should get a few different coloured beans to try and might pick a new favourite. Search for recipes when you know you like something. I often make curries at home with brown lentils (i throw them in dried and let simmer until cooked) They pair nicely with eggplant. If I start the curry with a small amount of meat (maybe a lamb neck chop or two) the flavour carries well.

I love chick peas in salads, but it is worth learning to make felafel at home. They are delicious and could be your new summer 'burger'.

Have fun! So so cheap and tasty.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 5:31 AM on April 1, 2012

A lot of people are recommending dried beans, and they do taste better and are far cheaper, but I find that if I buy dried beans, I never actually eat them. So I stick to cans, because I hate buying things I don't eat.

Beans and rice are buddies; here are a few of my favorite combinations:

Gallo pinto (Costa Rican black beans with rice.)
Red kidney bean curry
Butternet squash and chickpeas

I'll cook up a can of black beans with a chopped onion, garlic, cumin, and pepper flakes, and then smear that on everything from sandwiches to vegetables to eggs.

You can sub in beans for meat in curries, sauces, etc. Do you have a favorite chili recipe? Substitute beans for half or all of the meat.

Hummus (a chickpea spread with tahini) is an awesome snack but I don't have a good recipe for that; hopefully someone will chime in with one.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:50 AM on April 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

I really like bean salads -- this Q got some good tips for bean salad manufacture. Hit a good deli/'upscale' supermarket with a good take-away counter and buy whatever bean (lentil, etc) salads look good to you, search around for recipes from reliable sources for the ones you like. Most are pretty easy to make and forgiving for ingredient substitutions.
posted by kmennie at 5:52 AM on April 1, 2012

Pinto beans, black beans, red beans, black-eyed peas -- they're all just so damn good. I never buy them canned, soak them overnight and then cook them at a slow heat until they're getting soft, then mix in some brown rice and more water, cook that rice in with the beans -- it's great.

It's peasant fare for sure, and probably sounds too simple to be interesting but it's great. And you can't get turned around cooking it; no matter what direction you take it just marches along with you, bringing a happy heart. It might take a short time but you can learn to appreciate food without near the salt in it, or I sure have anyways.

And if you've got a dog you are now ready to give as good as you get, your relationship with them on another plane after you blast them with a plant-withering fart, they understand now why you're always gasping and waving your hands around, they'll have for you a new-found respect, perhaps fear.

I cooked some pinto beans and brown rice yesterday, right at the end of the cooking I put in some chopped onion, chopped garlic, chopped tomatoes and let it simmer down, serve with some pepper on it, and a high qual (low salt, too -- look at the label) hot sauce. That and a stir fry made a great if simple dinner last night; I was a happy man.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:58 AM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Things I tried and liked:

white bean roasted chicken salad

hummus (four flavors)

roasted chickpeas

lentil loaf aka vegetarian meatloaf

I encourage you to buy all kinds of beans and lentils, cook a little portion by themselves and taste them. You will find out what you like or dislike. Check various cooking/soaking times.

For a quick fix get some cooked red kidney beans, cut up a cucumber or tomatoes, about the same amount as the beans, add some green leafy herbs like cilantro, parsley or chives. A little bit olive oil can be added. Toss. Very simple salad / side dish but tasty.

Note: if you are used to high sodium, high fat foods (like canned baked beans in tomato sauce would indicate) you might find beans and lentils and other veggies bland - this will pass. You can train yourself to taste the natural flavors again. Sorry for the assumption if this does not apply to you.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:58 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You really don't have to go through all that soaking and boiling stuff if you don't want to. The canned stuff is mostly fine.
posted by unSane at 6:04 AM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Serious Eats has a very good vegetarian bean chili recipe. Besides kidney beans, it uses crushed chick peas for texture. It's super healthy and makes enough for a couple of meals.
posted by TorontoSandy at 6:14 AM on April 1, 2012

If you do cook them from dried beans, boil them until they turn, or soften, then pour that water off and add fresh water. You will have less gas that way. Also adding a small glurg of a carbonated beverage towards the end of the cooking time will fizz out the gas.
posted by tamitang at 6:16 AM on April 1, 2012

The big advantage of the dried ones is they are much cheaper. I use mostly dried, but I always have some cans on hand; and I always use canned chickpeas for my favourite chickpea salad, which is hilariously easy and simple (and yoinked from Orangette, I think):

One can chickpeas
Grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper.

Drain the peas, slosh over olive oil, add lemon juice until it tastes delicious, season, scrape cheese over it, eat.
posted by thylacinthine at 6:18 AM on April 1, 2012

I eat a lot of canned beans. I rinse them pretty thoroughly and like to pretend that gets rid of a lot of the sodium.

Two of my favourite ways to eat them are bean salad and curried bean pie.

Bean salad: I open three or four different types of canned beans - kidney, cannellini (white beans), chickpeas, fava beans, etc, and (rinsed) put them in a big bowl. I add chopped onion, celery, corn (also canned) and whatever fresh herbs I have on hand. A pinch of sugar, splash of olive (or yum! sesame) oil and a bit of vinegar, and you're good to go. Tastes best chilled.

Curried bean pie: As above, open a bunch of different canned beans. Fry up some onions and garlic, add curry powder and/or your favourite mix of indian spices. Put all of this in an ovenproof container with salt and pepper and the beans and mix it thoroughly. Add a can of tomatoes if you like. Slice potatoes very thinly and layer on top (not too thick a layer or it won't cook). More salt and pepper, a little spray of oil, and bake in the oven until the potato browns. It's pretty sloppy. You can serve it with rice.

Also, homemade baked beans are great. I use borlotti beans.
posted by lollusc at 6:18 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

(PS: that particular baked bean recipe is probably not awesome for your cholesterol, but I've found you can leave out the bacon (or sub with lean ham) and it still works great. I also only use about a quarter as much sugar as in the recipe because otherwise it's too sweet for me.)
posted by lollusc at 6:21 AM on April 1, 2012

I'm pretty skeptical about much of the typical advice on diet with regard to cholesterol: you might have to be skeptical too depending on how your treatment plan goes. But I don't think you can go wrong with the "less-meatarian" approach, so I'll bite.

Beans, pulses, seeds are all very good for you and are super cheap. I typically start with the dried variety, since I find the consistency a lot more appealing. As Durin's Bane says, getting rid of the anti-nutrients is important. (According to Jacques Pepin, you need soak black beans only 4 hours, since after that they start fermenting. Soaking time depends on the bean or pulse.)

Check out some Mexican and Indian cookbooks from your local library for ideas. I make this Pakistani recipe (black-eyed peas and ground beef) every so often and love it every time. I found Olive Trees and Honey, a book of Jewish vegetarian recipes from around the world, on the green, and it has been a treasure.

You have an opportunity to explore affordable, healthy cuisines that a lot of people will never know about. Good luck.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:21 AM on April 1, 2012

One more comment: in regards to your question about subbing beans for pasta: short answer is yes, but not kidney beans (in my opinion).

Broad beans (fava beans) are nice and big and fairly firm if you just steam them lightly - buy frozen for this, not canned. I find they make a great gnocchi substitute for any sauce or pesto you might want to use with gnocchi.

I'm kind of confused about your mention of kidney beans, though - I've never seen white ones - ours are red. Maybe this is a terminology thing (I'm in Australia) and what you are calling kidney beans is not the same thing, though.
posted by lollusc at 6:25 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I were you I'd start by buying a few different cans of beans and just taste them. If you drain them and rinse them they won't contain much sodium. After you've tasted them individually, mix them together with some corn, some chopped cilantro, juice of a lime, some olive oil and minced garlic and make a big bean salad that you can eat as a meal or a side whenever you like. Once you've done this you'll be a lot more comfortable with beans and can branch out and try different recipes, try dried, etc.
posted by hazyjane at 6:35 AM on April 1, 2012

Check out the bean varieties and recipes at Rancho Gordo!

I like to make cooked beans one element of a composed salad.
posted by BibiRose at 6:51 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

*pulls up chair and sits down*

Rule of thumb for dried beans: Soak 'em first, then simmer 'em for an hour or so. There are two ways to soak 'em -- either dump 'em in a big bowl and cover with water and leave it overnight, or dump 'em in a pot, fill the pot with water, boil the hell out of 'em for two minutes and then leave to soak for an hour or two. Not only is the boil-and-soak method quicker, but -- in the words of a Greek playwright I know -- "it gets rid of the farts." However you soak them, you put them back in a pot, bring to a boil, and then simmer until the beans are tender. Most dried beans swell up when they cook -- about 1 cup dried will equal about 3 cups cooked.

About canned beans - some varieties don't have salt. Depends on the brand. But even the ones with salt don't have that much. There are Goya canned bean dishes, that are more complete cooked things, but most canned beans are just "we cooked the beans to doneness plain and canned 'em." So you can rinse them off if you're especially worried about salt, but it isn't necessary. Or, you can look for the organic/fancy brands of canned beas.

What you can do with them:

* Make up some homemade pasta sauce with a couple cups of chopped tomatoes, a chopped onion, a chopped carrot, some garlic, etc. and throw in a can of cannelini beans. You now have pasta fagioli.

* A chopped onion, chopped celery, and chopped carrot also go into Tuscan bean soup. Saute those three ingredients with some chopped sage, then dump in three cans of beans (cannelini and/or pinto - I do a mix of both), and enough broth to cover it all. Let simmer for about a half hour, then puree about half of it.

* That's also the basic recipe for black bean soup - saute some onion and some celery, leave out the carrot. And use all black beans.

That's a start
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have found that a slow-cooker makes my bean life soooo much easier. The easiest possible way to make beans:

For the equivalent of about 1 can of beans (2 cups cooked):
- Pick and rinse 1/2 cup of dry pinto, black, great northern, cranberry, roman, kidney, or your other favorite type of bean.
- Put them in the crock pot and cover them with 1-2 inches of water.
- Add a hearty pinch of salt. (Contrary to popular myth, salt does not make beans tough, and this really improves the flavor and texture. Even with a goodly pinch of salt, you'll still end up with less sodium than canned beans.)
- Cook 6-8 hours on low.
- Drain.

Start the beans in the morning and you're ready to make Magical Vegan Loaf in the evening.

Start them the night before, and in the morning, give the crockpot a quick rinse if you're fastidious, and toss the beans back in. Sweat 1 chopped medium onion and 2 minced cloves of garlic in olive oil in a skillet. Chop 2 carrots and 2 stalks of celery. Add all these ingredients and 4 cups of broth to the crockpot. Cook this all day and you have bean soup for dinner. (With all your extra time in the evening, whip up a batch of biscuits, corn bread, rolls, or quesadillas to serve alongside.)

This soup recipe lends itself to endless variation:
- Use a stick blender to make a smooth soup, or leave it chunky.
- Add roasted tomatillos at the beginning and cilantro at the end.
- Add a pork hock or smoked turkey leg at the beginning. Remove at the end, discard the bone, skin and fat and shred the meaty bits and return it to the pot.
- Add 1/2 cup of rice or your favorite grain 30-60 minutes before you want to eat. (Quinoa, millet or white rice at the 30-minute mark, brown rice or soup-grade wild rice at the 60-minute mark.)
- Add a can of chopped tomatoes and/or some tougher vegetables at the beginning (sweet or white potatoes, cauliflower, kohlrabi.)
- Stir in some more delicate vegetables 30 minutes before serving (peas, spinach, kale, green beans, sweet corn—you can toss frozen vegetables right in.)
- Add spices and dried herbs (cumin; curry powder; basil and oregano; thyme) at the beginning, add fresh chopped herbs (cilantro, parsely, etc.) at the end.
- Make a small batch of biscuits and float them on top about 15 minutes before serving for dumplings.

Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow-Cooker has lots of interesting and delicious bean recipes.
posted by BrashTech at 7:15 AM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

When you've soaked your beans, discard the water you soaked them in. Because that's where all the farty chemicals go when they soak out of the beans.
posted by flabdablet at 7:32 AM on April 1, 2012

Listen, I like beans but if you know nothing about beans, soakers and crock pots are perhaps a little premature. Here are some low-commitment ways to start trying beans:

1) Buy some Baxter's soups. Minestrone, Lentil & Bacon and Carrot & Butterbean are all deeply unobjectionable.

2) Buy a can of chickpeas. Add chickpeas to salads.

3) If you've never had beans and rice, the absolute simplest way to try them together is to walk the frozen food aisle and pick up a rice and bean burrito. A Mexican restaurant would be better but since I suspect you're not a hugely adventurous eater, I'm trying to keep this low-stakes.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:45 AM on April 1, 2012

You could start with lentils - you don't have to soak those or anything. I eat them several times/week just because it's an easy way to get protein and fiber. I usually chop up an onion, celery, carrots, garlic, leeks, whatever veggies I have, saute those and brown them a bit(put the garlic in during the last couple of minutes or it will burn,) then dump in lentils and water or broth + whatever spices and it will take around 30 minutes to cook. Lately I've been adding a chopped sweet potato when I add the lentils.

Red/french green/golden lentils take the shortest cooking time.

I make that fairly often when I am busy so that I can just reheat as needed. I try to add something like chopped kale or spinach at the end. Usually put some parmesan or other cheese on top.

With beans I like to add some type of bean to veggie soups...my favorites are garbanzo and cannellini. I like cannellini bean dip...you can add roasted garlic, rosemary, or pretty much any herb/spice combo that sounds good.

I see that roasted chickpeas have been mentioned - those are my favorite snack to take to work. Very filling.
posted by fromageball at 7:58 AM on April 1, 2012

About beans in a can:
Depending on what variety of bean, what brand of cannery, etc., the beans might be basically whole beans in thick water, of they might be cracked open, and the liquid is kind of pasty. most of the salt is in the liquid. I prefer the kind with whole beans - kidneys, chickpeas, and blackeyed peas are usually pretty good, black beans usually okay, pintos often mashy. I drain them in the can, fill the can back up with water and shake it around, then drain it again, maybe a couple of times, to get the beans pretty rinsed before I add them to a recipe. Cuts down on salt. Some people say the liquid has more of the fart-inducing sugars in it, not sure if I believe that or not. (in general, you won't find canned lentils, but they'e pretty easy to do from dried.)

My favorite is bean chili:
1. Chop and cook one onion and one bell pepper (optional, chicken sausages sliced in as well) - either saute in a skillet and dump into crockpot, or saute in a big cookpot and dump everything else in with it.
2. 2 cans kidney beans, or one kidney, one black. Drained and rinsed.
3. 1 large or two small cans diced tomatoes (not crushed) or canned whole tomatos that you chop as you dump in. Undrained - this tomato juice is the main source of liquid.
4. Seasonings. Buy a "chili powder" blend, which is mostly cumin, garlic powder and paprika, a bit of oregano, and not a whole lot of hot pepper. About 2 tablespoons in a pot of chili. Then if you want it spicier, add pepper flakes or cayenne powder or your favorite hot sauce. Taste, add more pepper, more chili powder, more salt, etc as necessary. Some people add a spoonful of jam or sugar, but that's not my taste.
posted by aimedwander at 8:09 AM on April 1, 2012

Just a quick word about buying dried beans, I think they taste better but they are a pain to cook time wise. When you do cook them cook the whole packet and then freeze what you aren't going to use in the next few days, cooked dried beans freeze wonderfully and then are super handy to throw in pretty much anything you are making. I like to throw them in stews or soups.

If you haven't eaten a lot of beans then picking up a selection of canned ones at the supermarket and trying them out to find out what you like and what brands you like first might be a good idea a can of beans is pretty cheap. Just rinse them well before use.
posted by wwax at 8:40 AM on April 1, 2012

The holy trinity - 1 cup each onion, bell pepper, celery - some garlic, black pepper and a bit of Tabasco sauteed together in some olive oil (don't breath the steam). Add 1 pound pre-soaked dry red/kidney beans, , couple of bay leaves,water to cover and cook for 4? hours. Can also add some sausage or ham. Serve over rice,
posted by Carbolic at 8:49 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't worry about the gas issues. If you eat beans regularly you won't have a problem.
posted by JPD at 9:12 AM on April 1, 2012

Beano helps with gas issues. Also supposed to be helpful is adding a Central American herb called epazote to the beans as they cook. We have tried this and we think it helps but we haven't done a rigorous study of it or anything.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:36 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of beans recipes are based around Mexican and Caribbean flavours. Which, delish!

However- if you find yourself hankering for some different flavour profiles, here are some great recipes from elsewhere:

Lots of Italian dishes are based around white beans, e.g. White Bean and Tarragon Soup. Bean salads can be Italian-inspired as well: try beans (chickpeas, black beans, cannellini beans, or all of the above) with black olives, capers and olive oil.

Lobio, Georgian (e.g. Georgia in the Caucasus) kidney bean salad with walnuts and pomegranate juice/molasses. I live off this stuff, it converted me to beans.

There are many Asian desserts based around beans, mostly in soups, e.g. Red Bean Soup. Sounds odd if you haven't tried them before, but actually they're a very approachable way to start eating beans if the savoury flavours put you off initially. You can buy them in cans from many Asian supermarkets.

If you have difficulty finding a bean you like, you can get many of the same nutritional benefits from split peas (yum split pea soup!) which may be more familiar to you.
posted by pickingupsticks at 9:46 AM on April 1, 2012

wwax: "Just a quick word about buying dried beans, I think they taste better but they are a pain to cook time wise."

Agreed. They are super cheap though. If you become a convert to the way of the dried bean your grocery bills are going to go way down.

I like beans:

Cooked up with some onion, chilli and crushed tomatos, then ladled onto a baked potato.

In a thick, hearty vegetable soup.

In a salad with a lemon-y dressing.

Wrapped in a tortilla with sweetcorn, peppers and cheese.
posted by the latin mouse at 9:50 AM on April 1, 2012

Let me add in a note about red lentils. Easiest thing a there is no soaking.

Cut up some celery, some carrot, and some onion. More onion than either of the other two.
Get some olive oil. A splash, like a shot of whisky.
Get some spices. I like cumin or curry. And a bay leaf. Always a bay leaf. But whatever.
Get some water and/or low sodium stock. Maybe about 6 cups/ a liter and a half.

Rinse the lentils a bit. Do this in a fine mesh sieve or in a big pot. They go everywhere in a big pot, so don't worry too much. Heat up the veggies in the oil so that the onions get a little bit clear (so the heat can't be too high) and then add the lentils and the liquid. Add spices, too. Cover and wait for the lentils to turn to mush. Add more liquid if it looks like it is drying out. Variations include whatever vegetable is lying around.
There is no way to screw this up if you are just even casually watching this and the heat is not too high.

More water= soup. Less water= over rice. Less less water and some breadcrumbs and a quick bake= patties. Add hot sauce/brown sauce/whatever sauce as needed.

This also works with brown lentils.
posted by oflinkey at 10:07 AM on April 1, 2012

Oh, and yellow split peas.
posted by oflinkey at 10:11 AM on April 1, 2012

I was once a bean novice like you, but now I am a bean expert! We love beans at our house.

One of my favourite recipes for dried beans is Rick Bayless's recipe for black beans from Mexico One Plate at a Time (I used to just wing it with black beans, but even though I used basically the exact ingredients as Bayless, there are a million times better when I follow his recipe to the letter). The "Look Inside" feature on the Amazon site actually has the helpful pages about beans included--you can click through from the TOC. We eat these in a bowl, over brown rice, topped with chopped avocado and tomato, a little cheese and sour cream. I also serve them as a side with shredded chicken and tortillas. Or at the bottom of a taco salad: baked tortilla bowl, beans, tons of lettuce, tomato and whatever else you like on a salad, salsa.

You can take cold beans, chopped tomato, chopped coriander, diced red onion, minced garlic, the juice of a fresh lime, for a nice cold bean salad.

They freeze really well, so I make a huge pot, then toss them in the freezer in supper sized servings.

I love Nigella Lawson's garlicky chickpeas recipe. This, too, I serve with rice. Topped with chopped tomatoes and chevdo or Punjabi mix.
(I don't cook the beans as long as suggested because I find that makes them mushy. I like my beans a little firmer, though hardly al dente.)

You can make a great chili using just canned beans (I like using mixed beans for the variety) or using beans and ground chicken or TVP (ground tofu) instead of beef in your usual recipe.

I also make a black bean soup:
2 cans of black beans, drained and rinced
1 litre of chicken or veg broth
2 roasted red peppers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 can of diced tomatoes
lots of garlic
ground cumin
ground cinnamon
the juice of an orange

Simmer it all in a pot for an hour or to so the flavours can meld. Serve.

You can also make all kinds of dips and spreads from beans, for healthy snacks.
posted by looli at 11:36 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is the second time I've recommended this book and I haven't even read it yet. Maybe I should just buy myself a copy? I think I will. Looks fantastic for those of us who don't know beans (wah wah wah).
posted by purpletangerine at 11:59 AM on April 1, 2012

Here are a few of my favorite, very easy bean recipes to get you started.

Soupy Pinto Beans
Serve this in a bowl with a spoon. To go with it, I recommend southern cornbread (I gave my recipe here) and some sliced ripe tomatoes.

With some dried bean recipes, you soak the beans. In this recipe, there is no soaking.

2 pound bag of dried pinto beans
1 large onion, chopped roughly into chunks
about 3 Tablespoons Pace picante sauce (or, a spicy Mexican salsa if you can't get Pace brand)

Pour out the dried beans on a clean table. Look through them and discard any that look exceptionally shriveled, and discard any rocks that made it into the bag. Take the rest of the beans and put them in a big pot with a lid. Add 4 times as much water as you have beans (you can eyeball it -- it doesn't have to be exact). Add the chopped onion. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Put the lid on, and simmer for 2.5 hours. At about 2 hours (when you have half an hour left) add the picante sauce and stir. If it seems too soupy for your liking, keep the lid off for the last 1/2 hour.

Senate Bean Soup

There's an official recipe for this, and here it is. I use the first recipe, and go much more lightly on the ham (so that the ham is for flavor but not a main component of the dish). I serve it with a salad of iceberg lettuce (the cold crunch is satisfying with the soft warm beans) dressed with a vinegary, not creamy, dressing.

Cuban Black Beans and Rice
You can mix the beans and rice together after they are cooked, or you can serve them side by side on the plate. I like to slice mangos to add to the plate (sprinkling the mangos with chili powder), and add liberally add cilantro leaves on top the beans and rice. You could use dried beans, but I use canned ones for this recipe, to make it fast.

Small amount of olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped

4 cups chicken stock (canned is OK)
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar (or white vinegar if that's what you have on hand)
2 bay leaves
3 cans black beans

In a skillet, heat the oil and then saute the garlic, onion, and pepper. When done, pour it into a pot with a lid. Into the pot, add the chicken stock, vinegar, bay leaves, and beans (with the bean juice included). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Put the lid on, and cook for 30 minutes.

While the beans are cooking, prepare plain white rice, slice the mangos, and also cilantro.

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

This is traditionally served on Mondays, because that is the day you did laundry. The beans don't need much tending to, so it's perfect when you want something to cook without constant attention, even on non-Mondays. I think the best recipe I've tried is from the Tabasco cookbook, so I'm copying it here:

1 pound dried red beans, picked over
8 cups cold water
1/2 pound lean salt pork, bacon, or ham, diced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoons Tabasco pepper sauce
4 cups hot cooked rice

In a large saucepan combine the dried beans and the water, cover, and soak overnight. Add the pork, bacon, or ham, and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic for 3 minutes or until golden. Add the mixture to the beans along with the parsley, salt, and Tabasco sauce. Cover and simmer 1.5 to 1.75 hours longer, or until the beans are tender enough to mash one easily with a fork. Add hot water as needed to keep the beans covered, and stir occasionally. When the beans are finished they will have soaked up most of the liquid. Serve over the hot cooked rice.
posted by Houstonian at 12:14 PM on April 1, 2012

The two best rules I have learned from people who know beans are:

1. No Salt until the end. It makes beans tough.

2. After soaking, cook beans in a crock pot on low with two times water to beans. No minding - they cook themselves.

Things I've learned from experience:

1. If you're going to use a ham hock or leftover ham bone, roast it in the oven on foil for twenty-thirty minutes at 400 degrees. It intensifies the flavor like you wouldn't believe. It also leaves a lot of fat in the aluminum foil instead of in the bean pot.

2. No matter what kind of bean, two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to a pound of beans near the end of cooking seems to remove all of the musical elements for me. It substantially improves black-eyed peas and navy or great northern white beans, and complements kidney beans and black beans really well.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 1:38 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here are some common bean myths - including the "salt makes beans tough" myth. (It's actually acid that will toughen beans.)
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 5:36 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

A super-easy and delicious recipe that is our go-to for a quick dinner:

Mix one large or two small cans of rinsed black beans with a jar of drained tomato salsa in a pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. (To this you may add, but don't have to add: diced zucchini, cubed cooked sweet potatoes or butternut squash, chopped bell peppers, canned corn.) Add about half a beer or a cup and a half of chicken or vegetable stock--or enough to just barely cover the beans. Turn on the heat and simmer (a few bubbles) and stir occasionally until the liquid thickens, about 15-20 minutes.

Spoon a quarter-cup-sized lump onto a large flour tortilla topped with sour cream, shredded cheddar, lettuce, chopped raw onion, chopped tomato, and/or mashed avocado or guacamole. You could add cooked rice if you want. Voila: black bean burrito. Vegan, if you don't use chicken stock or the dairy toppings.
posted by elizeh at 7:22 PM on April 1, 2012

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