Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How to cook dried beans

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Because I have 3 servings of beans (or lentils) a day, following the recommendations of Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen (see this post), I cook beans fairly often. I’ve always cooked beans on the stovetop (unless I’m making, say, Boston baked beans), but this article from the Bean Institute shows another method.

Lentils are a special kind of pulse. They require no soaking. Just put them in boiling water and simmer until they’re tender. If you’re making a soup (say, Lentils WW Style), they remain in the soup. If you’re making a salad (say, Lebanese Lentil Salad), you drain them when they’re tender (after cooking 20-30 minutes), rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, and then use them in the salad. Lentils are particularly nutritious.

For all other dried beans, the way I use them determines how I plan cook them:

  1. Beans used in salads. Soak beans in  brine (1 teaspoon salt per 1 cup of dried beans) overnight, then drain the soaking water and add water along with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) per 1 cup of dried beans (see discussion below). Simmer uncovered in a pot on the stovetop until they are tender.  (Covering the pot encourages boil-overs. Because the pot is uncovered, you’re probably going to have to add water during cooking, so keep an eye on the water level.) Drain and rinse under cold tap water to stop the cooking so they don’t become mushy.
  2. Beans used for making tempeh. Use plain water for soaking the beans and also for cooking the beans, and again cook uncovered on the stovetop (low heat) to avoid boil-overs, adding water as needed. I discovered through bitter experience that using baking soda makes the beans sufficiently alkaline that they are toxic to the tempeh mold, which requires an acid environment (which is why, once the beans are cooked and have been dried, you add 1 tablespoon of vinegar per 1 cup of dried beans — and that is not enough to overcome the alkalinity of beans simmered in a baking soda solution. I did note that using plain water, though it is good for the tempeh, does mean that it takes noticeably longer for the beans to cook to tenderness.
  3. Beans served as a side dish (for example, Boston baked beans, or pork and beans). Cook the beans as described below, which results in very soft and tender beans with a tasty pot liquor. I also cook beans this way if I’m going to include them as an ingredient in something I’m sautéing. Note: If you don’t overcook beans using this method, then you can drain and rinse the cooked beans for salads. However, they will not be suitable for tempeh because of the baking soda.

Two benefits of method 3: a) boil-overs don’t happen (they used to happen in method 1 until I figured out that I should cook the beans uncovered); b) the pot liquor is tasty.

So if you are not using the beans for tempeh:

1) soak 1 lb (2 cups) dried beans overnight in water in which 2 teaspoons of salt have been dissolved.

2) drain beans, add enough water to cover pot to a depth of 1-2 inches, and add 1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): experimentation has shown that this is enough to tenderize the beans but not so much as to make them mushy.

3) simmer the beans uncovered (to prevent boiling over) until the beans are tender. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water, then refrigerate.

Baking beans also works, but I now mostly cook on the stovetop./update

The Basics of Method 3

As noted above, this method is for cooking dried beans (black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, kidney beans, and so on), not for lentils.

To cook 1 lb of beans:

  1. Soak beans in brine overnight (that is, for 10 hours or more) before cooking. Use 1 teaspoon salt per cup of dried beans, and thus 2 teaspoons for a pound. (2 cups  ≈ 1 lb)
  2. Drain beans after soaking, then add 2 cups of water (or stock) in which you’ve dissolved 1 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) — 1 teaspoon per pint (or pound) of beans. Note: Originally, I followed the advice from the article below and used 1 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of beans. Based on my experience, that’s too much baking soda unless you include some acid ingredients with the beans (e.g., tomatoes, prepared mustard, blackstrap molasses). For plain beans, 1 teaspoon of baking soda per pound is plenty. I have now revised the recipes below to reflect this amount.
  3. Cook beans covered in a preheated 235ºF oven (not on the stovetop) for 2 hours. I use a cast-iron dutch oven, but I’ll also cook a batch in a stainless-steel soup pot. I don’t think the pot will make much difference, but we’ll see.

One oddity: when I searched for recipes for cooking beans in the oven, I found only recipes for Boston baked beans and the like, in which the beans are first cooked (or partially cooked) on the stovetop. I did not see any recipes for cooking plain beans (just in water) in the oven (no cooking on the stovetop), which I thought was the point.

Good pots to use

I used my 2.25-qt (2-liter) Staub round cocotte, and the beans and liquid were a comfortable fit (since I didn’t need to leave a lot of headroom to accommodate boiling and prevent boil-overs). Staub no longer seems to offer this size, but I imagine a 2-qt cast-iron dutch oven would work fine, and the 2.5-qt bean (or sauce) pots look like just the ticket for cooking 1 lb of beans.

Here are some pots, listed in order of how they appeal to me, most appealing first.

AIDEA 2-qt dutch oven with skillet lid (enameled)
Tramontina enameled 2.5-qt sauce pot
Enameled cast-iron 2-qt sauce pot
Martha Stewart 2-qt dutch oven (enameled)
Bayou Classic 2.5 qt bean pot
Amazon Basics 2-qt dutch oven (pre-seasoned)
Cajun Cookware 2-qt sauce pot (pre-seasoned)
Bayou Classic 2-qt dutch oven (handle can be removed)
Lodge 2-qt dutch oven (pre-seasoned)
Le Creuset 2-qt dutch oven (enameled — and very expensive)

I given preference to the enameled ones, but pre-seasoned is fine — just keep them seasoned as described in this post. Still, with very long cooking, I think the enameled or non-stick versions might work better.

Glorious One-Pot Meals
A 2-qt (or 2.25-qt or 2.5-qt) cast-iron pot is ideal for Glorious One-Pot Meals, a quick and easy way to cook a good dinner (4 servings) in one pot. This post provides an explanation and template.

The Experiments

Batch 1 – A learning batch
I used a 3-quart cast-iron dutch oven for 1 lb of black beans and cooked them for two hours at 300ºF. The temperature was too high. Although there was no boil-over, the inside of the lid and the upper part of the pot was crusty with baked-on foam, and although I started with plenty of water, at the ends the beans were not quite covered with liquid.

However, the beans were delicious — tender and creamy soft, with skins all intact (i.e., not mush), and the liquid was delicious and the consistency of syrup (though not, of course, sweet). This show me I was on the right track but had the temperature too high and probably the cooking time too long — certainly too long at that cooking temperature.

Batch 2 – Getting more experience
Black beans again, and again 1 lb soaked in water with 2 teaspoons of salt. I cooked them in vegetable stock to which I’ve added 2 teaspoons of baking soda [but note: I now would use 1 teaspoon of baking soda for that amount of beans]. I am using 225ºF and it looks as though it will be 3.5 hours. (I started at 215ºF and raised the temperature to 225ºF after the first hour, so it may take less time if you go 225ºF the entire time.) There was more liquid than I liked, so next time I’ll just barely cover the beans and add liquid only if needed. Beans were very tasty and tender. I think a 2.5-hour time at 225ºF might work.

Batch 3 – First really successful batch, with quantities
I made a “plain” batch again to get quantities and times right. I soaked 1 lb black beans in brine (water + 2 teaspoons kosher salt), then drained the beans and put them in the 2.25-qt Staub round cocotte. I added 2 cups water into which I had dissolved 2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), which barely covered the beans (see photo at right), put the lid on the pot, and put it into a pre-heated 225ºF oven. [And note: I would now use 1 teaspoon baking soda.] The beans did absorb a good amount of the water during cooking but did not come close to cooking dry.

After 1 hour, the top was covered in a layer of foam (photo at left), which I removed. The beans had not absorbed much water at all. After 2 hours total cooking time, the beans were tender, with a fair amount of liquid remaining.

Batch 4 – Adding flavors
For this batch I again used 1 lb of black beans soaked in brine (2 teaspoons of salt in soaking water). After the beans have soaked overnight, I drained them and put beans in pot with:

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped small

I tried a mixture that did not quite work.

Result and revisions: It took a long time for the beans to cook — about 3 hours, and I increased temperature to 235ºF along the way. The increased temperature did not result in any boil-over, so I’ll use that as the standard temperature.

I was puzzled why it took so long to cook the beans to tenderness, but in looking at the ingredients I used, I realized that some are acidic, and tenderness comes from using a slightly alkaline cooking liquid. (That’s the idea of the sodium bicarbonate.)

Blackstrap molasses is fairly acidic, Dijon mustard is prepared with vinegar and thus is quite acidic, and I imagine tomato paste is acidic. So for the next batch (details at link) I used:

8-10 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced

Mix the following in enough water to make 2.25 cups total. I first mixed the sodium bicarbonate in 1 cup of water, then added the ingredients below, then added enough water to total 2.25 cups for the mixture. The amount of baking soda is a bit more than I would normally use, but that’s to reduce the acidity from the acid ingredients.

1 tablespoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) — because acidic ingredients
1 teaspoon powdered mustard (thus no vinegar)
1.5 tablespoons blackstrap molasses (and make sure it’s blackstrap molasses)
1.5 tablespoons tomato paste (no salt added, preferably)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
2 teaspoons ground black pepper (or some crushed red pepper if you want some kick)

Add garlic, jalapeño, and liquid mixture to beans, mix well, cover pot. Put into a pre-heated 235ºF oven and cook covered for 2 hours and test. Cook until beans are tender.

No oil or fat (though once beans are cooked, I think I’ll add a tablespoon of extra-virign olive oil — don’t want to add it before cooking because it toughens the beans), and of course no meat since I follow a whole-food plant-based diet.

Update: Check out the Costa Rican version from The Eldest.

Batch 5: Simple batch of red kidney beans
Back to basics for batch 5: Soaked 1 lb red kidney beans soaked overnight in water to cover with 2 teaspoons salt, then drained them. Dissolve 1 teaspoon baking soda in 2 cups of water and put beans and water in my 2.25-qt (2L) Staub cast-iron round cocotte and cooked in pre-heated 335ºF oven for 2 hours. Worked like a charm. Next batch I’ll add flavors and make the adjustments described in batch 4 to account of extra acidity.

Batch 6: Simple batch of red kidney beans but no baking soda
The beans did take longer to cook (a little over 2.5 hours) and were not so tender. I had to add some water, and the pot liquid was thinner than when using baking soda, so I drained the beans. On the whole, I think I’ll stick with using baking soda.

The Source

The article on the Bean Institute’s site begins:

Editor’s Note: Dr. Guy Crosby of America’s Test Kitchen will be speaking with Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND at the 2016 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) on Sunday, October 15 from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. in a session titled “Delicious Plant-Based Dietary Guidance: Food Science and Culinary Strategy.” Amy interviewed Dr. Crosby for this article that provides insights into research from America’s Test Kitchen work on cooking with dry beans.

Guy Crosby, PhD, CFS, is the science editor for America’s Test Kitchen, publisher of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines. He is co-author of The Science of Good Cooking, published by America’s Test kitchen. Guy is also an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health where he teaches a course on food science and technology.

AMY: In your book The Science of Good Cooking, you provide information on cooking with dry beans, advice that reduces cooking time and improves texture. This advice is based on extensive research conducted by you and your colleagues at America’s Test Kitchen. Why were you interested in doing research and sharing information on cooking with dry beans?

GUY: Beans are a very healthy food, rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, and a form of starch called resistant starch, which is proven to be very beneficial for gut health. I have been involved with research on resistant starch for almost 20 years so dry beans are a food of great interest to me. Beans contain the highest level of resistant starch. Dry beans are also very inexpensive and readily available, especially for people with limited incomes. Dry beans last a very long time because of their low water content; they are not susceptible to attack by bacteria, mold and fungi. Thus, dry beans offer a source of healthy food that is cheap, readily available, and can be stored for years without food safety problems.

AMY: I was intrigued to read in The Science of Good Cooking that instead of soaking dry beans prior to cooking, you recommend brining the beans. This is advice I’d never seen before. Many sources recommend not putting salt in the soaking or cooking water, saying that doing so will cause the beans to not fully soften. Can you explain the brining process and how brining reduces cooking time and improves texture?

GUY: The slow step in cooking dry beans is absorption of water into the beans to turn them soft, as well as gelatinize of the starch that must be cooked in order to be digestible. Water can only be absorbed into the beans through a tiny opening called the micropyle, so the process is quite slow. Soaking beans in water for many hours reduces cooking time. However, in a pot of beans some beans may cook faster than others. This can lead to some beans bursting their skins, while other beans may not be cooked enough to be soft and creamy inside.

Brining beans involves the same process as soaking in plain water except the brine contains a low concentration of salt (sodium chloride). During brining the sodium ions slowly exchange with calcium ions that are part of a very large molecule called pectin. Pectin strengthens the cell walls in the beans, and calcium strengthens pectin. So natural pectin can produce skins on the outside of dry beans that are difficult to soften and expand, and can eventually burst when the inside of the beans become over-cooked. Exchanging sodium for calcium ions during brining weakens the pectin so the skins become more flexible and can expand without bursting as the interiors to cook to a soft creamy interior.

Thus, brining accomplishes two things: Brining provides water to soften the beans and reduce cooking time, while simultaneously producing beans that do not burst while cooking to the desired soft, creamy texture. Surprisingly, during brining very little salt is absorbed by the beans. Laboratory tests have shown that beans brined for many hours absorb only 52 milligrams of sodium per 3 ounces of brined beans.

AMY: This is fascinating research. I’m especially pleased to hear that brined beans absorb so little sodium.

You also recommend cooking beans in an alkaline cooking environment. What do you mean by “alkaline environment” and what tips do you have for home cooks related to this advice?

GUY: An alkaline environment for cooking dry beans is created by adding a tiny amount of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the cooking water. An alkaline environment means the water has a pH slightly above neutral pH, which is pH 7. The addition of baking soda to the cooking water does two things: It adds sodium ions that weaken the pectin as explained above, and more importantly, an alkaline environment causes the pectin molecules to break down into smaller molecules that greatly weakens the pectin causing the beans to soften much more rapidly. Beans cooked with a tiny amount of baking soda (about one teaspoon per cup of dry beans) added to the cooking water cook in about half the time as beans cooked without.

AMY: The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we eat 1 ½ cups of legumes (beans and peas) each week (at the 2,000 calorie level), but few Americans are reaching this goal. [The Daily Dozen has me eating that amount each day. – LG] What other advice do you have for home cooks who want to cook more often with dry beans to enhance their family’s legume intake?

GUY: Since dry beans can take more attention to cook just right, it turns out that baking beans in the oven provides much more control compared with cooking on the stovetop. Beans cooked in the oven are exposed to more consistent milder heat producing beans that are more consistently cooked with creamy soft interiors and tender intact skins. Also, since beans physically absorb water as they soak and cook, adding water-soluble flavoring ingredients to the water (or brine) increases the flavor of the beans. Thus crushed garlic, onion, thyme, mustard, rosemary, sugar, molasses, and bay leaves added to the soaking and/or cooking water will add flavor to beans. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2020 at 9:22 am

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