Bean basics

Article by: Jennifer Anderson  |  Picture by: AMINAH A. RAHMAN
Bean basics
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Easy to prepare, beans are a cheap and healthy way to eat. For such tiny little things, beans offer some pretty big health benefits. Not only are they high in protein, fibre, calcium, potassium and iron, but beans can also lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of cancer and protect against ulcers.

Dried vs. tinned beans

When you buy dried beans, you can often find much more variety compared to what is found tinned on a shelf (health food or Asian shops often have the largest selections). Another great advantage of buying dried beans is that you have control over how your beans are cooked, while tinned beans can often contain salt, preservatives and spices or seasonings.

On the other hand, tinned beans offer the convenience of being fully cooked and ready to add to any recipe – perfect for the busy home cook. And you can modify your recipe to account for any seasonings tinned beans may contain (check the labels to see what has been added).
Soaking dried beans

For the best results, soak your beans overnight. However, in a pinch, you can do a quick soak about an hour beforehand.

Full soak:
  • Rinse beans in cold water, picking out any shrunken ones as well as pebbles or grass (beans are very much a product of the earth and even the highest quality brands may have dust and little rocks in them).
  • Place in a pot with at least 750ml of water for every cup of beans – refrigerate overnight.
  • Discard any beans that float to the top – these are most likely hollow, or they may have been sullied by mould or insects.
Quick soak:
  • Rinse and pick through beans, then place them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by 5cm.
  • Bring to the boil, cap the pot with a tight-fitting lid, remove from the heat and let sit for one hour.
  • You can either keep the cooking water and proceed with your recipe, or you can drain the beans and start again with fresh water. (Using fresh cooking water will not, as some cooks claim, reduce beans' gas-causing properties. To build up your body's ability to digest beans, simply eat them more often.)
Cooking beans

When you're ready to cook the soaked beans, drain them and cover with fresh water.
  • Bring the beans to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
  • Check periodically and keep enough water in the pot so beans are always under at least 1cm of liquid.
  • Once soaked, beans will take between one and two hours to cook, depending on their size.
Quick tips

  • Store dried beans in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.
  • The only exception to the soaking rule is with lentils. These are so small that they don't need to be soaked at all. Just rinse and cover with plenty of water, then simmer for about half an hour.
  • If you have a recipe that calls for tinned beans but you want to use dried, keep in mind that most dried beans will triple in volume when fully cooked. And if you're using black beans, cannellini beans, split peas or chickpeas, they will nearly quadruple in size.
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  • Any info regarding cooking is welcome. JenniferB, your comment re cooking beans in a slow cooker is pure commonsensical. My brain is so slow it needs ideas like yours to kick start me into cooking. Thanks.
    Posted: 15 Oct 2012 Easy
    • Couscous
    • Not Rated
    • newton aycliffe, UK
    I like to make beans in my slow cooker. If I start them in the morning and simmer them all day on "low", they are ready in time for dinner. Just need to make sure to get the right ratio of water to beans. The beans will expand a lot and you don't want to dry them out while cooking for nine hours.
    Posted: 25 Jul 2011 Easy
    • JenniferB
    • Intermediate
    • Seattle, United States
    thank you this was helpful
    Posted: 09 Jul 2011 Easy
    • lanea
    • Beginner
    • birmingham, UK


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