"Beans, beans are good for the heart; the more you eat, the more you . . ." Well, we all know the rest to that ditty. The fact is, beans are good for the heart. The lowly bean (or legume — its fancy translation) is a good source of thiamine, niacin, and other components of the vitamin B complex series. They are also great comfort food — think of a hearty French cassoulet, Mexican refried beans, Boston baked beans, the three-bean salad for barbecues, and Middle Eastern hummus. Life would be sad indeed without beans.
But how to cook the suckers? It's easy enough to open up a can of beans, but, for real flavor and texture, nothing beats fresh beans or the more common dry beans you find in 1-pound packages at the store. Be aware, though, that the dry beans you get at the supermarket could be older (and drier) than last year's leftover meatloaf. Thus they need to be soaked beforehand in water. And the more soaking time, the more tender the final product. That's why it’s often recommended that you soak beans overnight rather than doing a quick soaking method, which is when you cover the beans in water, bring to a boil, cook, uncovered, over moderate heat for approximately two minutes, and then let them soak for an another hour off the heat.
The overnight method involves placing beans in a colander, discarding any broken or shriveled ones, and rinsing them in cold running water. Then you place the beans in a pot with water to cover at least 2 inches. Never use warm or hot water. In extremely hot weather it's a good idea to soak the beans in the fridge. Ideally, one should change the water several times to prevent the beans from fermenting. After overnight or quick-soaking, drain the beans and place them in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven with about 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover and boil over moderate-low heat until the beans are tender. From here on you can finish up with any of the three basic bean recipes given below. Let me add, the recipes are good for almost any kind of legumes: black beans, red kidney beans, pigeon peas, small red beans, Lima beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, pink beans, chick peas, etc. Next time you decide to go with dried beans over canned, try these three recipes for some delicious bean dishes.
Oswald Rivera is a cookbook author and novelist. Visit his website, Oswald at Large, for more cooking articles and recipes.