Beans: I’ve Been Doing Them Wrong

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We eat a lot of beans at the FP household, partly because beans are cheap and partly because neither of us likes to shop for, handle, or cook raw meat. I like to cook a pound or two at a time in my slow cooker and store the beans in two-cup portions in a freezer bag. (A can of beans is about a cup and three quarters; most recipes measure the beans they call for in cans, and we usually like to use more than the recipe calls for.) My general practice was to rinse and soak the beans, then put them in the slow cooker, cover with cold water, add a bay leaf if I thought of it, and turn it on. (I’ve never gone wrong with 8 hours on low.)*

The results were, I thought, totally acceptable, and both slightly cheaper and slightly tastier than canned beans. Then I read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Now, I often found this book a bit much for me; her target audience seems to be people who cook way better than I do. But I thought I would try the things within my reach, starting with salting my pasta water. That resulted in tastier pasta, so next up was trying her advice on cooking beans.

She recommends putting in all sorts of odds and ends: scraps of carrot, onion, and celery, plus a garlic clove, parsley stems, thyme, and fennel. I think fennel is foul and did not have parsley stems or thyme, but I obediently put in the rest, plus, as she recommends, some kosher salt and “an immoderate, Tuscan amount of olive oil.”

I cooked overnight and noticed the difference as soon as I woke up. Instead of smelling like, well, beans, my kitchen smelled like soup. It smelled good. The cooking water—not mere bean water but broth—tasted good. I fished out the veggie bits with a slotted spoon. (I might use cheesecloth in the future, as the celery leaves broke up into a million little pieces and were hard to remove.)

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Pinto beans ready to cook with lots of celery and olive oil and other odds and ends.

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And this is what it looked like in the morning. Mmmmm.

For some reason, I always thought it would be too hard or too much trouble to try to save the broth from cooking beans. It really isn’t. Put the colander inside a big bowl and proceed. The beans themselves, which were plumper and tastier than any other navy beans I’ve encountered, were destined for chicken chili made with chicken broth, so I saved some of the leftover bean broth and used it to make bread soup, as Alder recommends. (Actually I didn’t follow her recipe; I just threw some stuff together and it was quite tasty.) I also tried substituting bean broth for chicken broth to save a buck, and that worked, too, at least in a highly flavored chili. That batch was made with pinto beans, and while the broth still tasted fine, I think I preferred the clearer white bean broth.

Separating beans from delicious broth.

Separating beans from delicious broth.

I’m so impressed that I might actually buy the book after I have to return it to the library and take my time working through the chapters. It’s not really a cookbook per se and has only a few recipes; it’s more a book about cooking happily and with confidence.

What new things are you trying in the kitchen lately? Where did you get the idea?

*Red kidney beans may possess a toxin that cannot be adequately eliminated through slow cooking. We don’t care for them, so it’s not a problem for us.

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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

2 responses to “Beans: I’ve Been Doing Them Wrong”

  1. Autumn says :

    We eat a lot of beans at my house too – being vegetarians and such. Or vegetarians for now, we’re toying with the idea of slowly introducing some meat back into our diets. I keep canned beans on hand for when I’m especially lazy and need something quick (usually for hummus), but try to use dried beans on the weekends. I might have to try this out – the most I’ve ever done was cook them in veggie broth.

    • frugalparagon says :

      Do try it! If you cook a pound or two of beans at once and then freeze them, you will never need a can again–you’ll just grab a bag from the freezer when you need some.

      Today’s beans were actually cooked with meat :-). I got some ham hocks at Sprouts and made ham and bean soup from Budget Bytes. Yum! And a nice pan of whole wheat cornbread on the side.

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