Dear Home Ec 101:
I am working to improve our diet and I’ve read that dried beans have a lot less sodium than canned. I’m not a planner and can never remember to soak the beans the night before. Can I do a big batch and freeze them in portions?
~Trying in Trenton
Absolutely! Beans are a great way to pack some protein and fiber into your diet and yes, dried beans are far lower in sodium than the canned varieties.
Most dried beans require soaking, with an exception for lentils. There are a couple methods to choose from. Cover them with cold water, removing any beans that float, and allow to soak for eight hours or over night. A fast soak requires covering the beans with water, bringing to a boil, removing from heat and allow to soak for an hour.
To tell if the beans have soaked long enough examine them. They should be plump, if you split the bean they should do so uniformly. Longer is not better, they will only absorb a finite amount of water and beans left too long will begin to ferment. Now that is an unmistakeable odor! Not that I would have ever neglected a pot of beans soaking in the kitchen.
After soaking, rinse the beans, and cover with water. Bring them to a boil; immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and gently stir on occasion. Add water if necesary, the beans should be completely submerged at all times. Dried beans will take anywhere from half an hour to two hours to cook depending on their size. If you are storing the entire batch, it’s better to err on the side of undercooking to preserve the texture.
Once your batch has cooked drain, rinse, and cool the beans before freezing. I spread them on a cookie sheet to cool quickly. Divide into 1 or 2 cup batches and seal in freezer bags. Be sure to remove as much air as possible. We find a vacuum sealer quite handy, but I would not invest in the gadget until I was sure that buying in bulk was a habit and not a whim. Freezer bags will work just fine.
Your cooked beans are now ready for any recipe. A word of caution as you work on improving your diet, try to introduce beans gradually to avoid most of their reputed and uncomfortable side effects.
(photo credit Ed Wieber)