Friday, August 10, 2012

Tips for Cooking Beans

My family lerrrrrvs beans. They're a nutritious addition to any meal, and sometimes serve as a meal by themselves in our house! A couple tortillas, some pickled jalapeƱos, nommmm.

I suppose we could just buy a can of refried beans, but aside from possible additives, BPA can linings, and way more salt than I'm interested in, dry, bulk beans can cost as little as $0.12/lb through co-ops or warehouse stores. From the "regular" grocery store, I get beans for about $0.79-$1/lb in the bulk section. Most of us pay $1-$10/lb for meat, why not cut some costs and throw down some beans and still get your dose of iron at dinner time? (And fiber, to boot)!

I'm gonna give you the basics - its how my mother-in-law (Mexican cooking ninja) taught me how to cook. Some of this, a little of that, "just cook it until it looks like this." I'll break it down with a little more reason behind why I do things, just because I love a good over analyzation...


Soaking aids in digestibility, thus eliminating or greatly reducing your post-bean fart issue by breaking down oligosaccharides and phytates (among other things). If you soak them before cooking and your belly is still in an uproar, you may have a sensitivity that you could further investigate. But for the vast majority of us, soaking should suffice.

Beans at least double in size after a 12-hour soak. So to soak your beans, put enough water in the bowl/pot/bathtub to cover 3x as many beans as you have in there (1 C beans:3 C water).


Avoid salting the beans prior to cooking. Doing this hardens the skins on the beans... thus increasing cooking time. Add salt when the beans are done cooking. This way, you can add salt to your preference and its not a guessing game. Nothing worse than cooking something for 4 hours only to find out it tastes like a salt lick.

Here's my basic bean recipe.

**Note: It will be a few hours, so my suggestion is to soak the beans overnight, start cooking the beans in the morning, and they will be cooked by lunch or dinner time, depending on your ability to babysit the pot


1 lb dry beans of your choice (pinto, black, and Peruvian are our favorites)
1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar (optional, but useful)
1/2 of one medium white onion, sliced
3 tbsp cooking fat (bacon grease or butter are my favorites)
salt, to taste

To Soak:

1. Dump your pound of beans on the dining room table. Pick out any rocks, sticks, or dirt clumps.

2. Put your beans in your soaking bowl. Rinse and drain the beans a couple of times. Something you may have thought was a bean was probably a dirt clod, and now its going to be mud. Now rinse.

3. Fill your soaking bowl (with the beans in it) with water (remember our 1:3 ratio), and the ACV. Let them soak for 12 hours.

To Cook:

1. Heat your bean pot to a medium-high heat and add cooking fat.

2. Slice your onions, add them into the pot when the cooking fat is hot (if the heat is too low, you will caramelize your onions and the beans will be sweet. If you start them on a higher heat, it's a very different flavor).
3. Cook the onions until the edges burn a little. Black-burn is okay! Just make sure your cooking fat doesn't start smoking.

4. Add your beans and enough water until you have about an inch left of space from the water line to the top of the pot.

5. Keep the pot on medium-high heat long enough to get a little boil rolling. When the pot reaches a smallish boil, set the heat to very low, and cover. 

6. Check every hour or so and stir regularly. This should take about 4-6 hours. 

7. To check readiness: Pop a bean in your mouth after letting it cool down for a second. If its not dry or powdery, you're done cooking your beans.  This is the time to also add your salt!

8. If you choose to mash your beans, or once they've simply cooked down a bit, you need to stir them frequently. They settle more easily and you risk burning them if you leave them to cook alone too long.

Now go figure out what you're going to eat them with. Yum!