Sunday, February 1, 2009

Day 1: The Beany Basics

rinse after soak
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.

like sands through the hourglass
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.

in the pot
Dump your rinsed beans into the bottom of a large pot...

add water
...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...

the next day
...plump beans in slightly murky bean water! Dee-lish!

rinse after soak
Back into a colander for one more good rinse...

finished beans
...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?"



  1. Squirrel dander! I'm dyin' over here!

  2. My husband has been eating pinto beans his whole life and cooking pots of beans our whole marriage. We never soak. I've always wondered, why soak? Now is the first time someone has explained it. I thought it had something to do with the taste?

    We do sort. No broken tooth for me, thanks.

    Lately, we don't even rinse. I'm now re-thinking the rinsing after your post. Won't be doing the soak, though. I can't think that far ahead.

    Here's my pinto bean tip: serve with hot sauce and tex-mex cheese on top. Yum.

  3. Okay. I'll try the dried beans, but I don't want to.

  4. Girlfriend, only you could make the sorting and soaking process for dried beans hi-freaking-larious. Seriously, I'm snorking all over the place here.

    And I'm also singing Single Ladies/Put A Ring On It, too. Which, you know, thanks.

  5. Thank you! I've always wanted to use dry beans, but didn't know where to start. Looking forward to the next installment!

  6. They are sort of pretty. In a "I'm not putting them near my mouth" kinda way.

  7. O/T: I made a batch of the sushi rice krispie treats for my co-workers. They were a hit! Thanks for the great photo and inspiration!

  8. I was tempted to skip this whole month of beans because I am not a fan of them, but after reading this post I decided to pay attention. The fact that you don't like beans much makes me think that if a bean recipe makes it onto your blog it has got to be pretty tasty. Can't wait to see what you come up with!

  9. Love the bokeh in the 4th picture down :-) I REALLY don't want to eat beans!!!

  10. And sometimes the little rocks are actually dried beans.

  11. I am a soaker, more often quick-soaker due to the seat-of-my-pants approach to meal preparation. I tried sorting for the first few times and didn't find anything bad--nary a rock--so now I just kind of eyeball the beans while soaking and hope for the best.

  12. Hilarious and well written. Thank you for the colorful soaking instructions, I loved it! Can't wait to try out some of the recipes on your site.