Cooking With Dried Beans

imageAs a child, I remember watching my mother sift through black-eyed peas at the kitchen table. She had a large, white plastic strainer on her lap to catch the ones that passed muster and were slid off the table.

The vision has always held me back from creating a dried bean soup. Like the beginning of all craft learning, it seems liked a very difficult process. And, yet, the image of my mother sifting through beans also inspires me to want to make a dish that utilized the dried ingredient.

My mother-in-law purchased a gift subscription for my other half for Cook’s Country magazine, a bi-monthly magazine that highlights cooking techniques and comfort-style recipes.  Luckily, the December/January 2014 edition highlighted the process for cooking with beans and featured a Hearty White Bean Soup recipe for experimenting.

The core techniques to cooking with dried beans, as I have learned, comes down to three things: sorting, brining and simmering.

1) Sorting:
Bags of beans tends to have small stones or other debris mixed in. Picking through the beans like my mother did, helped to eliminate some of the less than desirable additions to the soup.

2) Brining:
While it sounds super-complex, it really is just salty water. According to the magazine, “as the beans sit in the salty solution, the sodium ions in the salt replace some of the calcium and magnesium ions in the bean skins. These sodium ions weaken the pectin, the glue that holds the cells together, and strengthens the cell walls, so moe water can penetrate, resulting is softer bean skins.” Leave the beans in the salty solutions for eight to 24 hours.

3) Simmering:
Cooking dried beans takes time — so one does need to plan ahead. A boil will tear the skins and cause the beans to fall apart to mush. The receipe I used had us bring the beans to a boil to jump start the cooking and then transferring the pot to a 250-degree oven to maintain a slow, steady simmer that coaxe the beans to tenderness.

imageAs you can see, all three of these key techniques requires a bit of patience. You can’t hurry beans. I’m sure there’s an old saying somewhere about that.

In regards to our experiment, I have to say I was a bit impressed. Yes, it did take about three hours of cooking one afternoon to complete — but the beans were soft and the soup was tasty. For something that had been built up in my mind as being difficult, difficult, lemony difficult — it was easy peasy lemony squeezy.

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