Beans are a nutritious, filling fiber source—low in calories and high in satisfaction. They are a complex carbohydrate (or good carb) that will actually help balance glucose (blood sugar) levels. Beans are inexpensive and easy to cook, and the variety of ways to prepare them is endless. They have a reputation for causing gas, but the best way to acclimate your digestive system to handle beans is to eat them frequently, allowing the needed enzymes to establish themselves in your gut. People who eat beans several times a week do not usually have the stereotypical gas-passing problems. Try to eat at least one cup of beans each day.
Pinto Beans are the most common and recognizable bean to Americans. They are commonly used in Mexican dishes and western chili, but can be seasoned to fit a wide variety of dishes. After cooking thoroughly, pintos may be mashed or partially blended to make bean dips or healthy refried beans (no lard needed!). Our favorite seasonings for pinto beans are cumin, garlic powder, taco seasoning (without MSG), jalapeños, and more cumin. Some folks like them just as well plain.
Great Northern Beans are used for white chili, baked beans, ham and beans, and beans & weenies. They have a great flavor of their own but will take the style of whatever seasonings you add. We love these cooked with onions and served with cornbread.
Kidney Beans are another popular choice for western chili. They may be drained, rinsed, and added to multi-bean salads or just sprinkled on top of a tossed salad for variety. Kidney beans tend to take a little longer to cook than other beans, particularly in the pressure cooker. Allow an extra few minutes.
Small Red Beans are also good in chili and soups. Because they take less time to cook and are less expensive than kidney beans, we often use them as a kidney bean substitute.
Black Beans (or frijoles negros) are a tasty alternative to pinto beans. Use them in the same way you would use pintos in your Mexican recipes. Be aware that virtually any food you add to them will take on their purple-black color, which is beautiful on the beans but can look a bit peculiar when it stains corn or carrots. Reserve these and mix together just before serving for a more visually-appealing dish.
Soybeans are a great source of controversy. They have been eaten for thousands of years, particularly in Asian cultures and some people promote them as having helpful estrogen properties. Others say these plant estrogens are dangerous. (Some of the studies cited include experiments where birds were fed an exclusive soy diet and had serious health problems. A diet limited to one item of any kind is likely to hinder health no matter what it is!) To play it safe, some people are saying one serving of soy a day is a reasonable amount. Preferably, this would be in the form of homemade soy burgers, soymilk, or other minimally processed soy foods such as tofu and tempeh, rather than commercially processed foods that just use soy as a filler. It is also important to note whether the soy you consume is from a genetically modified source.
Garbanzo Beans (or chickpeas) take a little extra time to cook when using the stove-top method. Garbanzo beans are wonderful on salads, blended into homemade hummus, made into bean burgers, or in soups. Make a Dijon sauce, add garbanzo beans, and serve over rice for Chickpea Dijon instead of Chicken Dijon. Garbanzos are great in the crock pot with some garlic powder, dried onion, and Italian seasoning. They are a rich bean producing a slightly fatty broth that is also delicious.
Black-Eyed Peas are a Southern tradition, often seasoned with onion and bacon or a ham bone. Add a dash of hot sauce and serve with cornbread. The great thing about black-eyed peas is that they are a fast food when it comes to beans. They donít take long to cook—approximately 30 minutes in the pressure cooker.
Green/Brown Lentils are another quick meal on the stovetop. Lentils come in many different colors, red, black, yellow, and brown (but called green). They are commonly used in Indian dishes and called dahl. The green/brown lentils are most common in America. We cook ours with some onion, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and diced tomato, and throw in a handful of elbow macaroni noodles toward the end. Lentils do not need presoaking and will cook in about 30 minutes.
There are several easy ways to cook dry beans. Regardless of which method you use, take a few minutes to sort them first, looking for shriveled or discolored beans, small rocks, and dirt clods; then rinse them in a colander.
- Our favorite method is to put sorted and rinsed beans in a crock pot with plenty of water (about 2½ parts water to one part beans) and seasonings and simmer on low overnight. They are done in time for lunch the next day. If you start them first thing in the morning, they will likely be done in time for supper.
- If you donít have time to let them cook overnight or all day, put sorted and rinsed beans in a pressure cooker with the appropriate amount of water (2½ parts water to one part beans). Turn heat on medium-high and monitor the cooker until it begins a steady, moderate hiss and the pressure valve is elevated. Turn heat down to medium and simmer approximately 45 minutes, although cooking time will vary depending on your interpretation of temperatures and pressure levels and by the particular pressure cooker. See your pressure cooker instructions for more specific information. It is best to remove cooker from the heat and allow it to cool down naturally, as the beans will continue to cook even during this cooling time. (A related hint: I never put anything tomato-based in the pressure cooker, as the sugar in the tomatoes tends to stick and burn. I add the tomatoes after the beans are cooked.)
- The traditional way to cook beans is to soak them in a bowl of water overnight; then drain and rinse them. Put them in a cooking pot and cover with fresh water. Add seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover with a lid, simmering until tender (about 90 minutes).
Making Sure Your Beans Are Cooked Thoroughly
Always make sure beans are thoroughly cooked. If not, they wonít kill you, but they may make you wish you were dead. Here are some tips to help ensure your beans are cooked.
- Use 2½ parts water to one part beans.
- Never add salt or seasoning mixes containing salt until cooking is complete. Salt disturbs the osmotic properties of the beans as they are cooking and will prevent thorough cooking, even though the beans may appear soft.
- To test the doneness of the beans, scoop a few from the pot and gently blow on them. Typically, the skin will rupture and curl back when the blown air hits a thoroughly cooked bean.
- Beans should be soft—not crunchy.
- Commercially canned beans are consistently well-cooked. Canned beans are not as economical as dry beans, but certainly a worthy option.
Salting the finished beans will be necessary to make them palatable even for those on salt-restricted diets. We recommend ½ tsp. salt for every cup of pre-cooked dried beans. For example, cook one cup of beans in 2½ cups of water, and add ½ tsp. salt when done.