Since we are gathering beans (legumes) this month, let's talk about the basics.
There are many types of beans - kidney, pinto, navy, chili, black, cannelini, Great Northern, etc. Lentils and dried peas also fall into this storage category.
Many people prefer to soak beans before they cook them, but it's not necessary. There are various reasons for doing so: some people say they taste better, and others say that the beans are easier on the stomach if they are soaked. Personally, I don't usually soak them.
If you choose to soak your beans, simply dump them all in a pot or bowl and cover them completely with water (the water should be about 2 inches above the beans). Leave them for about 4 hours or overnight. When the time comes to cook them, dump out the water and rinse the beans, then recover with fresh water and bring to a simmer. If the beans are pre-soaked, they will only need to cook for about an hour. Note: Do not pre-soak lentils or peas. They soften very quickly and do not need it.
To cook unsoaked beans, rinse them first with water. Then, just cover them with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. As soon as they start boiling, cover and set them to simmer. This method can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the bean variety. I often use this method with pinto beans. After 2 hours, they are very creamy and soft. I add about 1 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of pepper (1 lb bag of beans), and mash them up with a potato masher. It makes GREAT refried beans - perfect for burritos. We eat them like this for days (beans often taste better as leftovers because they thicken and the flavors have blended).
Cooked beans are 3x "bigger" than dry beans (i.e., 1/3 cup dry beans = 1 cup cooked, etc).
Abs has some great bean recipes that she is going to share this month, so keep an eye out for those. I will probably add a "bonus" recipe or two at some point this month (probably on Wednesdays), just because there are so many ways to use beans and I know how much everyone likes recipes.
Here's a little overview of specific beans:
Kidney - these versatile beans are often added to chilis, refried beans, soups, and salads
Pinto - these beans are oven used to make refried beans and chili
Peas - split pea soup! Do not pre-soak these
Navy beans - these small white beans are commonly used to make baked beans, but they are also good in soups, salads, and chilis
Chili - very similar to pinto beans, chili beans are smaller. Often used to make chili and refried beans
Black - used in soups and salads
Lentils - these legumes cook very quickly. I often put these in soups, adding them right into the broth with the veggies and everything. Add them last since they soften so quickly.
Cannelini - add these to soups and salads.
Great Northern - these mild beans are often used in casseroles and stews
Don't forget that you can either buy beans dried or canned. Most people like the taste of dried beans better, but canned ones are fine too, especially if the thought of cooking beans feels overwhelming to you (although it really is simple!).
You know, most beans taste good enough to eat plain. I have an 18-month old, and many days I heat up about 1/4 cup of canned (rinsed) cannelini or Great Northern beans, and she eats them right up as part of her lunch. Great finger food for a child!
Next Wednesday (August 13th), we'll be posting a tutorial on how to "jar" (bottle) dry beans (and other dry foods) so they have a longer shelf life. We hope you can learn from it, it's really easy!
Much of the information I shared here came from the CentralBean website. Click here for more cooking options and instructions for beans.