Friday, December 31, 2010

How To Soak Beans

Tomorrow's Black Eye Peas
I'm sure there are some of you who looked at my bags of beans and thought:  "How in the heck do you turn dried beans into beans that you can eat?"  Well, you could just dump the beans into your recipe, but you would need a lot of extra liquid and the results probably wouldn't be nearly as good.  Some beans would cook faster than others, and some might split open and make a bean starchy mess of your liquid.

I have to admit, it still scares me even though it is so incredibly easy.  E-A-S-Y.  If you can make soaking beans hard, I want to know how you do it.  What it isn't, however, is fast.  Soaking beans takes time, even if you use the speedy methods.  Different beans require a different amount of time, but basically there are three methods for soaking beans:

  • long soaking
  • quick soaking
  • pressure soaking
Regardless of which method you use, the first step is to wash the beans well and pick out any debris or odd looking beans.  Beans are not washed while they are being processed as they would begin to sprout or mold.  Rinsing the beans will help to remove any surface dirt that they picked up during processing.  Once your beans are well rinsed, you may choose your soaking method.

A Nice Long Soak

A long soak is the preferred method for soaking beans.  Place your beans in a large container and cover with cool water, at least several inches above the level of the beans.  Purists prefer to use glass or ceramic bowls, though plastic is certainly acceptable.  Metal would be a last choice because the metals can leach into the water and change the flavors.  Cover the beans with a towel or lid and allow to sit overnight.  Room temperature is fine unless it is quite warm - then you should probably put them in the refrigerator.  If it is too hot, the beans will begin to ferment and that is no good!

Speedy Beans

If you forgot to soak your beans, or you just had a dinner idea for tonight, then you are going to want to use a quicker soaking method.  You can follow the same method above, substituting boiling water, or you can put the beans in a large pan with water covering them by three to four inches and bring them to a boil for one minute.  Turn off the beans and allow to sit, covered, for one to two hours or until softened.

Putting On The Pressure

The fastest way to soak beans is using a pressure cooker.  If you have a pressure cooker, I'm going to assume that you understand the basics of pressure cooking.  Place the rinsed beans in the pot and cover by three inches of water.  Bring to full pressure and then remove from heat.  Allow the pressure to release naturally and your beans are ready!

Slow in the Slow Cooker

Cooking beans in the slow cooker is basically the same as the slow soak, but after the overnight soak, you drain them, put in new water, and turn on the slow cooker.  See Stephanie O'Dea's great tutorial at A Year of Slow Cooking.

Same beans, the next day
Once your beans are soaked, you may choose to rinse them and discard the liquid, or retain the soaking liquid for use in your recipes.  Discarding the soaking liquid may reduce the amount of gassiness in your beans, and some people find it gross to retain the soaking water.  On the other hand, the soaking water contains some of the bean nutrients and can add texture to the recipe.  It is your choice - I tend to discard the water but then I wonder why I'm throwing out something that could be useful.

Storing Your Beans

Cooked beans can be stored, covered in water or soaking liquid, for up to a week.  For longer storage, freeze in ziploc bags or plastic freezer containers, covered with water or soaking liquid.  The beans will lose some of their texture but will still be fine for nearly all recipes.  Frozen beans will keep a very long time.

When substituting in recipes, one can of beans equals about 1 2/3 cups of soaked, previous-dried beans.

C'mon people, if I can do this, you can do it.  Promise!

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