Dear Home Ec 101,
I thought if anyone might have the answer to my questions about dried beans, it would be you – I need a “definitive” guide to dealing with dried beans. So far, my Internet and even cookbook searches always yield really varied results. Should I add salt? Vinegar? Baking soda? None of the above?
Is soaking dried beans overnight the same as cooking them? Do the “quick soak” methods really work?
Why won’t they keep cooking once you put them into the recipe (e.g. baked beans)?
I also have a slow cooker that I’d like to use, and have done all right with it sometimes (chickpeas are my friends) but failed miserably other times (black beans seem to elude me…). How do you use a slow cooker with dried beans.
It’s all very confusing. I know dried beans can be a great money saver, and I like knowing what’s in them, but it doesn’t work so well when I ruin every other batch. I’d love some light shed on this subject, or some direction on where to look!
Whoo boy, slow down a little bit.
I love cooking with dried beans. Well, that isn’t exactly true, I love what cooking with dried beans does for our grocery budget. It took a little while, but so far I have the kids sold on pintos, refried beans, black beans, and occasionally I can get them to go for the tightwad classic beans and rice. I’m working on getting them comfortable with chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans. It’s a slow process with young kids, but we’re making definite progress.
I’ve written about how to use dried beans in recipes before, but a refresher is always a good thing.
Should I add salt? Vinegar? Baking soda?
Yes, no, yes. The salt camp is divided, I have good luck adding salt early in the cooking process. Vinegar. No, it’s an acid and that can inhibit the cooking process. Baking soda is helpful if your water has a low pH
Is soaking dried beans the same as cooking them?
No, but with two caveats. Not all dried legumes need to be soaked, peas and lentils are great examples. It is possible, in some recipes (those without tomatoes) if you’re patient, to cook beans from the dried state to the fully cooked state without soaking. Some say this increases their -hmm how do I put this delicately?- musical qualities.
You can’t boil beans that haven’t soaked and expect good results, they must be simmered gently for a long time. I can hear you asking, “What’s the difference between boiling and simmering?” Is there a difference? You bet. Boiling beans causes the protein to coagulate quickly making them tough, simmering beans slows down that change, the protein dissolves and is then reabsorbed later in the cooking process yielding more tender beans.
Do the quick soak methods for beans really work?
Yes, but you have to pay careful attention or you may accidentally boil the beans too soon which makes them tough.
Dry beans can go bad. When this happens no matter how long you soak them, they will never soften.
Why won’t cooked dried beans continue cooking after adding them to recipes?
They do, if you cook the recipe too long, they will eventually fall apart. That said, the presence of calcium or sugar inhibits this process which is why your baked beans or ham and beans (when made with a ham bone) can be cooked for a significant period of time without falling apart.
This is why, unless the recipe has a very long cook time, the addition of sweet or acidic ingredients (like tomatoes) should be held to the end.
Can I use my slow cooker?
Slow cookers can be used to cook beans, with good results, provided the addition of acidic or sugary items is held until the beans are mostly cooked. So if your recipe for black beans includes tomatoes, I would hold the tomatoes until the last hour. Just be sure you know what setting to use on your slow cooker. In newer models the high setting may be over the boiling point, which if it isn’t clear by now, isn’t good for cooking dried beans. Test your slow cooker by filling it 2/3rds with water and checking at the 1 and 2 hour mark.
I hope you feel a little more comfortable using dried beans.
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