As my husband and I work to pay off debt and live a healthier lifestyle, we have tried to find ways to cut back on both finances and food additives. It seems that pre-processed and packaged foods are the cheaper way to go, but that is not always the case. The very first way that we made a dent in our grocery budget was with dried beans.
The question that I am asked most frequently when talking about budgets and food is- “What on earth do you do with dried beans?!” Believe me, I said the same thing. I called my mom. I called my grandma. I Googled it. And I still had a few batches of beans that were dry and funky, boiling over or burned to the pan. That’s okay. At a dollar or so a bag, we can afford to learn from our mistakes. Here are some methods and tricks that I have learned that might save you some experimentation.
The Slow Soak Method for Preparing Beans
This is the most foolproof way to soak your beans. All you have to do is cover them with about two inches of cold water and let them sit all day or overnight. Be sure that you are ready to cook them after that, though, or they will start sprouting. (I didn’t say it was completely fool proof).
The Quick Soak Method for Preparing Beans
If you forget to soak them overnight, never fear! You can always do the quick soak. Cover them with about two inches of water in a large pot and bring them to a boil. After about five minutes of boiling, cover the pot and turn them off. In an hour, you’ll have soaked beans ready for cooking!
Lentils do not need to be soaked, so for an extra quick meal, replace the bean in your recipe with lentils.
Cooking Beans With The Slow Cooker Method
Once you have soaked your beans, drain off the water and refill before cooking. The most foolproof way to cook them is in the crockpot. All you have to do is cover them with about an inch of water and turn them on either high or low, depending upon the time you have. I like to cook mine overnight, let them cool during the day and then work with them for dinner. It will take 4-8 hours to cook, depending upon the amount and the slow cooker that you are using. For recipes like Refried Beans or Lima Lasagna where you are going to mash them, you don’t have to worry about overcooking them, since they will only get softer. If you want a firmer bean, wait until the end to add salt.
Cooking Beans With The “Quick” Stove Method
I say “quick” because it is not necessarily fast. It is just faster than the crock pot. If you run out of time, you can drain your soak water, refill the pot and return it to a boil. This time, you only want to partially cover the pot with a lid, then bring it down to a low boil. A simmer won’t cook the beans in any discernable amount of time, and a fast boil will cook the water out too quickly. The drawback to this is that you do have to watch it to be sure the water doesn’t boil out or cook out. Simply turn it down a bit and adjust the lid if it boils out, or add more water and turn it down a bit if it boils out. It can take 1-4 hours to cook them on the stove, though I typically find that 1 1/2-2 hours is the average time.
Cooking dried beans might take a bit of trial and error, but once you get it down, it is definitely worth the time saving and money saving in the end. I like to make big batches and always keep some in the freezer for quick and easy meals.