Cooking beans from scratch couldn’t be easier and once you do it a few times, you will DEFINITELY taste the difference between dried beans and those that come from a can. Whenever I make soup from beans that I’ve cooked myself, my husband will always say, “oh man, this tastes better than usual” and I smile to myself knowing that the extra couple of steps were worth it. There is only one thing that’s a pain about making beans… you have to think ahead. They really, REALLY benefit from an overnight soak both for taste and digestion reasons. Here’s how to do it:
The night before, wash your beans and then let them sit overnight in a pot with water covering them by about two inches. Then the next morning, you’re ready to go. If you’re not going to cook the beans within 8 – 12 hours, then you’ll want to keep them in the refrigerator where they will keep for about 24 hours. Now that your beans are soaked, there are two main methods for cooking them…
1) In the oven. This is my favorite method because it is DEAD simple. You drained your soaked beans, and then them in an oven-safe pot, cover them with water by about an inch and then bake them at 425 degrees for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Now, there are a couple of beans that can’t be cooked this way (cannellini beans have to be brought to a boil and cooked on the stove for 20 minutes before putting them in the oven, and once you’ve done that part, you might as well keep them on the stove) and I find that certain beans do better with this treatment than others. Chickpeas (especially if they haven’t been in your pantry forever) are excellent in the oven, as are pinto beans although they can take more than 2 hours. I generally start tasting beans after they’ve been in the oven for about 90 minutes. Every 20 minutes or so, try a few to see if they’re cooked. Once they’re cooked, add salt (I generally add about a tablespoon for a pound of beans, but do it to taste), a little oil and any other seasonings you’d like to add.
2) On the stove. The alternate approach (and this works for every kind of bean) is to take your soaked beans, drain them, cover with water by about an inch, add a couple of bay leaves and then bring to a boil. Once they’re boiling, cut the heat down to low and simmer covered for an hour or two. Most beans will take longer than an hour to cook, but I generally start testing them every twenty minutes or so around the hour mark. Once you’re satisfied with how done they are, add salt, oil and any seasonings you’d like. Enjoy them in tacos, bowls, soups and salads!!
So that’s beans… how about lentils?
When I was a kid, I always wondered why we had lentil soup so often. When I eventually asked my mom why, she said, because you don’t have to plan for it in advance. Fast forward 30 years and now I understand that she meant… you don’t have to soak lentils the night before AND they can be cooked and on the table in about 30 minutes more or less. A definite advantage for last-minute meal planners! :-). Add to that though that lentils are high in fiber and protein, and low in fat… and DELICIOUS. I make them a couple of times a week, either in the form of a soup or cooked and marinated in a salad with chopped onion and cilantro or parsley.
All you have to do with lentils is wash them well and pick out any rocks or small pebbles that can sometimes be in the package. Then follow whatever soup recipe you’d like to use them in! If you’d like to make a side of lentils— here’s my favorite recipe.
Wash one cup of dried lentils well, then put them in a pot and add two cups of water and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then put the heat on “low” and cook for 20 – 25 minutes, adding a little water if they get dry. Once they’re cooked, add a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil and a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust the oil and vinegar to your taste preferences as well. Dice a small carrot well and add to the lentils for crunch— a little parsley is also delicious!