Although I’ve eaten beans all my life from many family recipes, I don’t really know a hill about them. Recently, I experimented with cooking small portions of different kinds of dried beans just to see which ones I like the best (and to prepare myself for eating more beans and rice during this extended recession).
Beans have been a food staple since ancient times (just check your family cookbook for some bean recipes). The economically-challenged have always liked beans because they are filling as well as nutritious. The health conscious seek beans because of their nutritional value and fiber content. (I haven’t verified this, but somewhere I heard that eating beans and rice together creates the perfect protein of essential amino acids, the building block of cell rejuvenation.) So, they really are beneficial for you as well as taste good.
Interesting how we associate certain bean dishes with cultures or other influences: red beans and rice (New Orleans), black beans and rice (Cuba/Caribbean), Fava beans with a nice Chianti (Hannibal Lechter), hoppin’ john/black-eyed peas and rice (the South), pinto beans and rice (Mexico), baked beans (Boston). I bet your family cookbook has several other bean recipes that are family favorites.
Canned beans are great for short order recipes. I particularly like to cook spiral pasta, add pureed marinated artichoke hearts, and a can of small white beans (a wonderful dinner dish with salad and crunchy bread.)
5 Rules About Beans
These are wisdoms that might be useful next to a bean recipe in your family cookbook.
1. Don’t salt the beans before you soak them or cook them. It makes them tough.
2. Soak the beans overnight if you can. It helps ease the traf* factor and makes them cook quicker.
3. Beans are great when cooked with some form of flavorful meat or vegetable. (Another of my favorite easy meals is adding the ubiquitous 15-bean soup packet to a crockpot with some beef or chicken bones, or a smoked ham bone.)
4. Beans make great leftovers because they can be reheated and used in various ways, such as whole, mashed, pureed (add pureed beans to soup as a thickener.)
5. Beans need lots of water to cook. You can always strain it out (preferably to use in soup later) if there is too much water when they are done.
In my house, every time I cook beans in a certain pot, I burn them because I forget to add enough water. This pot has acquired the name “the bean pot,” and it certainly has had its share of Brillo pads scrubbing its stainless steel surface. One time I didn’t think the pot would recover, but fortunately, it did.
Now that I think of it, I’d better stop writing about beans and go and check my bean pot before I char it once again!
* Spell it backward; you’ll get my drift.