Level of Commitment: Baby Steps
Dry or Canned?
|Dry Beans||Less $||More work (slightly)|
|In control of ALL ingredients||Must pre-plan|
|Long soak releases all the nutrients/health benefits|
|Less packaging waste|
|Canned Beans||Quick and easy!||More $|
|Most sources say canned beans are just fine nutritionally (unlike other canned foods – more on this later!)||Conservative sources say method of cooking makes them less nutritious, both in proteins and nutrients|
|Might have added preservatives/junk|
|More waste (cans)|
Where to Buy
My price point for canned beans was, until my last trip to Sav-a-Lot, less than 50 cents. (They just went up to 57-69 cents!! Now I have to watch the sales again.) Fancy beans like garbanzo (chickpeas) and cannelloni beans run more expensive, generally, about a dollar a can even on sale. If you have an Aldi near you, check their regular price for beans (and leave a comment for the rest of us, if you would). I always loved being able to totally skip paying attention to bean sales because I only bought the standard ones at Sav-A-Lot! (Healthy Meals at Aldi and Save-a-Lot)
To price compare dry beans to canned, assume that you’ll get about 5-7 cups of cooked beans from one pound of dry. A can is about 1 ½ cups of beans. So a one pound bag will get you 3-5 cans. Generally a pound of beans is less than a dollar. You do the rest of the math!
How to Prepare
Canned – Open can, dump into strainer/colander, rinse gunk off (well!) and use in a recipe or cold.
Dry – Rinse thoroughly under cool water, then sort through them for any stones or other debris. (Yes, I’ve actually found a pebble and clumps of dirt before! I’ve noticed that the store brands tend to have more broken beans and yucky stuff. There’s a local Michigan brand, Carlson-Arbogast Farm, that I’ve had great luck with as far as a quality batch of beans. They’re not usually too expensive, either, and I love buying “local”.) If using lentils, mung beans, or split peas, you can skip the soaking section and go right to the cooking instructions. If using anything other kind of beans, continue to the next step: soaking.
Soaking Beans and Legumes
All dry beans and legumes, sometimes even lentils, mung beans, and split peas (more on why later) should be soaked before cooking. Soaking shortens the cooking time and makes the beans more digestible. To soak, cover the washed beans with four times their volume of water, then choose one of these soaking techniques.
- Normal soak: Leave the beans to soak for 4-8 hours
- Nourishing Traditions style soak: Soak for 12-24 hours in hot water, 140 degrees F is optimal (Nourishing Traditions recommendation). The long soak is the healthier method and makes the beans more digestible. I write in my calendar to “soak beans” in the morning, then the following morning “cook beans” for dinner that night. Do not add any salt or acid for the soaking period (updated since NT was published).
- Quick soak: (Less healthy, but works in a pinch) Bring the beans to a boil for one minute, cover, and let sit for one hour.
Cooking Beans and Legumes
1. Normal Cook (with methods 1 and 3): You have the choice of cooking in the soak water (more nutrients) or draining, rinsing and adding new water (less flatulence). Whether reusing soaking water or adding fresh, there should be twice as much water as beans. Boil furiously, uncovered, for ten minutes. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 1-2 hours, until tender.
2. Nourishing Cook (method 2): Drain, rinse, put back in pot and add water to cover beans. Bring to a boil and skim off foam. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 4-8 hours. Note: it is actually possible to cook beans for 8 hours and still have them not quite done! Make sure your simmer is a good, solid simmer. My “simmer burner” on low is not enough.
Timesaver: when you’re actually ready to cook and feel the dinner hour crunch, the dry beans are ready to go and you don’t have to do anything to them.
- 1 c dry beans yields 2-2½ c cooked. Unless otherwise stated, the amounts given in my recipes refer to the cooked volume.
- Salt can disrupt the cooking, so should not be added while soaking or during the first hour of cooking.
- I almost always cook a whole pound of dry beans. This way I can add a little extra to my recipe, and then I freeze the leftovers in 1 1/2 cup servings to make “a can” for future recipes. They also can hang out in the fridge for 1-2 weeks (you’ll KNOW when they get bad!).
The above information is mostly quoted from this source.
If you’re really in a hurry, you can also pressure cook beans. Click here for instructions, but I include them with reservations. This method of cooking does not release all the health benefits of the bean, BUT it is as good as using canned beans and cheaper. Sometimes you need to let frugality and time crunches win!
A Monday Laugh, On Me
It’s amazing that I ever got brave enough to purchase and use dry beans again after my first experience with them. If my mother ever soaked and cooked dry beans during my youth, I wasn’t aware of it. I first used them in college…in a dorm room. (Read: strike one!)
I was a youth minister planning to run a 30-Hour Famine, where my teens would fast from all food for 30 hours to experience hunger, raise awareness of poverty in the world, and raise money for a good Christian organization to feed the hungry. One of the possible conclusions to the experience was to reveal their “first meal” to be Unimix, a high-cal, high protein mush served to starving people in third world countries.
30% maize (or corn) meal
10% milk powder
40% beans (mashed or ground)
All that matters is that the recipe called for dry beans, and I wasn’t savvy enough to figure out that I could sub in canned beans. I had only lived on my own one summer and was subsisting on dorm food at the time.
Our dormitory had a small kitchen on the top floor, so I managed to find a pot, and I poured the entire bag of beans in, covered them with water to soak overnight, and stuck the nearly full pot (strike two!) in the corner of our closet-sized abode. Luckily, the pot was on one of the only scraps of tile floor uncovered by our carpet square…because overnight, those doggone beans expanded, and spilled nasty black bean juice all over the floor! Plus, they seriously stunk it up. If you’ve ever soaked black beans, you’ll know the color of the mess I had to figure out how to clean up. Ick! To end the disaster, the finished Unimix smelled and looked (and tasted!) atrocious. It was perfect. The teens were blown away by their final experience of the 30-Hour Famine, before being led into the next room for their lasagna feast!
So be warned: dry beans expand! Don’t fill the pot.
Pair Beans With…
Vitamin C: helps iron absorption. This could mean having an orange at dinner when beans are served, or just pairing them with tomatoes. Isn’t it wonderful that we tend to put beans with tomatoes in chili and tomato sauce anyway?
Whole Grains: the protein in beans, because they are a vegetable, not an animal, is not complete in the form that our body can fully utilize. When you pair with a whole grain (2 grains to 1 legume), you can complete the protein and give your body something it can really use. Again, isn’t it great that we tend to eat chili with cornbread, beans and rice (only brown rice counts as whole grain), and bean burritos in tortillas? A lot of this complementary food happens naturally, but it’s nice to know the science behind a good meal sometimes.
A little bit of meat: Research shows (from Nourishing Traditions) that the protein in legumes, even when completed by whole grains, is not as well assimilated by the body as animal proteins. Adding just a little bit of meat – as much as 2% or one small sardine – to beans and rice, for example, allows the body to assimilate the vegetable protein completely, sufficient for growth and health. Such a neat trick for frugal folks!
Simple Side Dishes
I use beans and rice as a side for a lot of meals. It’s a great way to include beans and an extra protein source, especially if you don’t think your family will go for main-dish beans in soups, chilis and Mexican food. Here are a few of my favs:
Added Bonus: the chicken rice and Mexican rice are, seriously, as easy and quick as a boxed mix but without all the nasty additives. Plus, they’re both very inexpensive, include whole grains AND generate more leftovers than boxed mixes (simple lunches!).
Watch for a Recipe Connection this week for a great, easy way to make homemade refried beans at a fraction of the cost and a multiplication of the nutrition of canned.
Some Favorite Main Dish Recipes
- Black Bean Soup
- Three Bean Soup
- Veggie Bean Burritoes
- White Chicken Chili
- Tuscan Bean Soup
- Hearty Lentil Stew (Lentils are the most intestine-friendly legume, by the way)
- Tacos made with Lentils (a recommendation from Sarah)
- Sloppy Lentils
- Chili, of course (everyone has a favorite recipe)
We’re totally leaving “soups and stews” season for summer, so I also want to remind you that cold beans are delish on salads and in pasta salads. They are also good finger foods for babies over 8 months (my daughter LOVES them!). UPDATE: Broth and Beans: Ideas for Summer Cooking
But I Don’t LIKE Beans!
I understand, I’ve been there. Every so often, I still cringe at the texture of beans in certain dishes, especially cold. There’s got to be something for you, too! Maybe you can use legumes mashed up as a dip (ever had hummus?). You could try chickpea wraps, which are pretty benign as beans go. I also had decent luck with making a pancake-like batter with lentils and rice. I’m sure you could skip the seasoning in a dosa and use it just like a tortilla for a wrap or taco. Try a blended soup or just mashing half a can into a batch of tacos or spaghetti sauce. If we can hide pureed veggies in sauces, we can hide legumes, too! Start with lentils, which are very bland and easy to cook.
A Note About Soy
Soy is one of those extremely controversial foods right now. You can find lots of sources that praise soy as the only legume that is a complete protein. You can also find sources that say soy is simply unsafe to eat unless it is fermented. For the purposes of this Monday Mission, just stay away from soybeans, unless you’re making Japanese miso… From what I understand, soybeans are tough to cook with and stink up the house, anyway!
Have a Bean-y Week!
For more great ideas for the kitchen and balancing your nutrition, budget and earth, see these links:
- Throw Away Less Food
- Connected Meal Planning
- Homemade Chicken Stock/Broth
- Intro to Super Foods Series
- 10 Tips for Avoiding the Microwave
- Be Prayerful in the Kitchen
- Homemade Refried Beans
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here for the checklist.
Be sure to come back next week – we’re making yogurt! No dishes or stress, I promise.
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