In last week’s Eating Healthy for the Weak and Weary, we talked about how to get more whole grains into your diet without creating a huge time deficit. This week we’re going to talk about everyone’s favorite musical fruit: BEANS!
Beans are not only a great source of fiber, they’re are a healthy way to add more protein to your diet without adding a ton more fat or carbs. When it comes to beans, you have two options: canned or dried. While there’s nothing wrong with canned beans – they are certainly healthier than a lot of the things you get out of a can – there are few things tastier than fresh beans made over a few hours on the stove.
Just like whole grains, making beans is a time-consuming endeavor since they require a few hours to cook. Thankfully, also like grains, they are easily prepared in large batches so that you can feed yourself for the rest of the week. Here at Chez Wasabimon, I make four to five cups of beans on Sunday night, when I have time to cook, which gives me enough for dinner and quick, healthy lunches throughout the week.
Another plus? The more you eat beans, the less you’ll experience their, um, dolorous effects.
To soak or not to soak?
A note on soaking: many recipes suggest that you soak your beans overnight to get rid of their, um, musical attributes. While you can certainly do this, it really doesn’t make a difference. In fact, I don’t like soaking my beans overnight because I always wake up the next morning to a bowl of weird-looking, half soaked lumps that have stretched out of their skins. Ick. They don’t cook any faster when they’re soaked, and in the end it just adds another step to an already time-consuming process.
How to cook dried beans
What should you cook them in? Personally, I’m a total food nerd so I cook my beans in a terra-cotta olla, which is a traditional Spanish bean pot. By all means, feel free to cook yours in whatever pot or Dutch oven you have handy. Just make sure it has a lid.
What’s the best way to go about cooking beans? These little guys are best prepared simply, with very little seasoning to compete with their natural earthy flavor. I start by heating 3 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame in whatever vessel I’m cooking the beans in. Once that’s good and hot, I toss in half an onion, diced, and let that cook until soft, about three minutes. Then I add one clove of garlic, pressed or diced, and cook for another minute. Now I toss in the beans along with enough hot water to cover them by about 3 inches. Give the whole thing a good stir in place the top on the pot, slightly askew to let some of the steam escape.
Now, depending on the kind of beans you’re using, they could take anywhere from an hour to four hours to cook. Check every 20 minutes or so, testing for doneness and to make sure there’s enough water in the pot to keep them moist. Once they’re almost done — say, once you try one and it’s almost tender — add salt to taste. You don’t want to salt your beans early on because this can lead to mushiness (ew).
Once your beans are done, stick them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. They make a great addition to almost any dish you can think of: add them to scrambled eggs, toss a handful into a salad, mash them up on toast, you name it. They’re a great source of fiber and protein, and can turn any lackluster last-minute dish into something you’ll actually be stoked to eat. If you want to get creative, look up a couple of recipes for how to make refried beans, winter bean soups, or some crafty 70s casserole. If all else fails, try taco night!
For best results, buy fresh
Where can you get fresh, dried beans? I’ve recently fallen in love with heirloom beans, which are varieties that have been around for long enough that their genes haven’t been tinkered with in a lab. No sir/ma’am, no Franken-beans for me! These days I either get mine in bulk from the local organic co-op, or I drag my bedraggled self down the Ferry Building farmers market at the ass-crack o’dawn to visit the Rancho Gordo stand (they also have an online shop!). My personal favorites are the borlottis, vallartas and yellow Indian woman varieties. These beans are mighty fresh and tasty, probably due to the fact that they’re guaranteed to be less than a year old – you don’t want to know how long those beans have been sitting on the shelf at your local chain grocery store.
For more information on beans, check out these posts: