Beans—as You Like 'Em

I’ve been cooking a lot of beans lately. They’re filling, they’re cheap, they’re satisfying, and they’re incredibly flexible. I use them in lots of recipes, and while when I worked out most of the recipes that I have with beans in them, I used canned beans, now I rarely reach for the can opener, and instead start off from dry beans. I’ve found that I just get so much more control over the flavor and texture this way, and it’s honestly not that much more work. I’ve adapted a lot of my practices from Rancho Gordo, and honestly Steve Sando’s an excellent reference on how to prepare beans. They are his business, after all.

I start off basically all bean dishes the same way: soaking. I’ll just set up a several quart pot (I have a large saucepan that’s maybe a 3qt pot) with somewhere between half a cup and a cup of dry beans, that I’ll sort through and remove rocks, dirt clods, the usual stuff you don’t want, as well as any beans that are particularly shriveled or that I’d otherwise not want. Then, after washing the beans I’ll soak them for a few hours at least; I usually start them soaking when I make breakfast. Note that you don’t need to soak beans, but they cook faster and get a better texture because of it.

For cooking, depending on if I’m going to just have the beans as a main dish or as an ingredient in another dish, I have a few different routes I’ll take. If the beans are the meal, I’ll dice up some aromatics: an onion, a carrot or two, possibly a bell pepper if I feel like it’ll add to the dish, and a few cloves of garlic. I’ll often sauté these before adding them to the pot, but if I’m either strapped for time or don’t care, I’ll just pitch them in. Even though beans are usually a vegetarian dish, if I’m cooking black or pinto beans I’ll often add a few rashers of bacon, diced and fried up for the grease first.

When the beans are going into another dish, like my Coconut Kidney Bean Curry, I’ll keep aromatics like garlic cloves whole; depending on the dish, I may add additional aromatics–in the case of that curry, I like to add lemongrass and a whole peeled knob of ginger, to infuse those flavors into the beans as they cook.

I’ll almost always add bay leaves to beans, and usually several other herbs and spices, depending on the flavor profile I’m looking for.

The important thing to always remember when preparing beans is to boil them hard for about fifteen minutes at the outset, to denature any phytohemagglutanin–and I’ll often just leave them cooking at that high temperature for a while afterwards. Beans just kind of take a while to cook, generally, and they’ll be ready exactly when they want to be.