Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Save Money: Dry Beans vs. Canned

In recent years I have come to appreciate homemade beans cooked from scratch. Beans are high-protein, high-fiber, inexpensive, and nutritious. Canned beans are convenient, but they are relatively pricey and often high in sodium compared to dry beans. There are an amazing array of varieties of dried beans to try, too. While cooking dry beans saves money, it takes a little planning. There are several options, but most cooks start with step 1:

Step 1: Pre-soak the beans. About 8-12 hours before you plan to cook the dry beans, put them in a colander, inspect, and rinse them. "Inspect" mostly means to check them over to be sure there are no pebbles mixed in with the beans. Any funny-looking beans can also be thrown away at this point. Put the rinsed beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with lots of water. Put the bowl in the refrigerator and allow the beans to soak.

 I put beans in to soak before going to work in the morning if I plan to cook them for supper. I'll soak them overnight if I plan to start cooking them in the morning. If pre-soaking beans seems like too much time or trouble, you will need to use a pressure cooker to make your beans. Go to "Option C," below.

Step 2: Drain the beans in the colander again and rinse them again. Discarding the soaking water is important because you will discard most of the sugars that make the beans "gassy" when you discard the soaking water. Now the beans are ready to cook, and at this point you have choices for Step 3:

Option A: Cook the beans. Put them in a large pot, cover with at least two or three inches of water and add one or two bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Then boil the beans, uncovered, until they are tender. How long this takes depends on the variety of beans and other factors. You'll need to research cooking times for the type of beans you are making, but the longest-cooking beans take up to 1 hour and 30 minutes to cook. Remove the bay leaves.

Option B: My favorite, and the reason I often start beans before work. Bring the beans to a boil as in "Option A," but only boil for 15 minutes. Transfer the contents to a slow-cooker and set the slow-cooker on low. Let the beans cook for several hours (about 8) or overnight. The advantage of the slow-cooker over the next method is that you can make more beans at once this way. Use some right away and store the rest in their own broth or soaked in water in the freezer to use later. The reason for boiling the beans before transferring to the slow-cooker is that some beans can be toxic if they are cooked insufficiently. The 15 minutes at a boil will ensure your beans won't make you or your family sick, so don't skip this step, even if it's a little more time and trouble. Remove the bay leaves.

Option C: The pressure cooker. Be sure to follow the directions on your pressure cooker. Do not overfill the pressure cooker. Generally you need to put a little oil in the water with the beans and the water to keep the beans from getting too frothy while in the cooker. Using a pressure cooker, you can cook pre-soaked beans in under 10 minutes and even cook unsoaked beans in under 30 minutes. If you choose not to presoak, I would discard the water the beans were cooked in and give them a good rinse to avoid a "gassy" product. Remove the bay leaves.

With pre-planning there is no reason to buy more expensive canned beans when you can cook up tasty, low-fat, low-sodium dry beans for your dinner. Use the cooked beans in chili, soups, salads, and all your favorite recipes in place of canned beans. One of my goals for my garden this summer is to grow some of my own beans to can or to dry for use next winter. Beans are not only good in your kitchen, they are good for your garden, too, because they help to fix nitrogen in the soil.

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