Sunday, February 1, 2009
Day 1: The Beany Basics
First, let's get this out of the way: I am not that into beans. I mean, I love the idea of beans, the thrifty, shelf-stable, environmentally correct, nutritious Tao of Beans, and the sweet people in my little family love beans, but when fork hits the plate I am often a bit...underwhelmed.
The beans, they are not so sexy. (And neither are recessions, but I find them marginally sexier than legumes.) So, really, a big part of the 30 Days of Beans is a personal quest to embrace the bean, love the bean, and gussy the little bastards up a bit. But before we can do that, I thought we should discuss the most basic of bean lovemaking rituals: the Sort, Rinse, and Soak. (With nearly all of the upcoming recipes you can use either soaked or canned beans, but give the soaked a shot at least once, OK?)
"What's with all this bean soaking, any-who?" you may be asking, and I have to agree with you. It seems terribly old-fashioned and farmwifey, but dried beans are incredibly economical, gentler to the environment, and taste noticeably better than their canned counterparts. And, honestly, the overnight soak requires minimal effort, just a bit of planning ahead.
Which brings me to the most important reason for soaking dried beans and it is, simply, because beans are filthy. Honestly.
As they are threshed and sifted and dried and bagged and Lord knows what else, beans come into contact with dust, dirt, bacteria, insect larvae, and fertilizers. And those dried beans, sitting innocently on the supermarket shelf, have never been washed because even a little contact with water could cause sprouting or mold growth. (This just keeps getting sexier, right?) So, without further ado, I give you The Sort, Rinse, and Soak.
First you sort through the beans, sifting them with your fingers.
A bag of beans frequently contains things like this: broken, split, generally funky-looking beans and the occasional rock. (Not. Sexy.)
Take this rock, for instance. See? The sorting process is crucial to rid your pot of beans of teeth-cracking pebbles...
...or other foreign objects. Sorting is critical, is what I'm telling you.
Now rinse those babies off, being sure to get rid of all dust and dirt and squirrel dander.
Dump your rinsed beans into the bottom of a large pot...
...and cover with eight cups of cold water for each pound of beans. Put a lid on it (or a Ring On It, depending on your intentions) and let those beans soak overnight. If you're in a hurry, there are lots of quick-soak methods we will explore at a later date.
And, the next morning, you have...
...plump beans in slightly murky bean water! Dee-lish!
Back into a colander for one more good rinse...
...and you have soaked, rehydrated beans! These beans will cook a bit quicker, and quick-cooked beans mean more nutrients, better texture, and earlier dinner. They also feel really wonderful in this stage, like wet, slightly bouncy pebbles from The Sea of Pinto. Run your fingers through them, revel in all the cheap eating possibilities, and think, "Hey, is it just me or is this a tiny bit sexy?"