Cooking School Day 11: Beans

Cooking School Day 11: Beans

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Emma Christensen
Oct 20, 2014
(Image credit: Tara Mataraza Desmond)
(Image credit: The Kitchn)
  • Today's Topic: Beans
  • The Goal: 20 lessons, 20 days to become a better cook at home
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Have you ever cooked a pot of beans from scratch? This can be a life-changing experience for home cooks. So creamy and full of flavor — a homemade pot of beans is miles beyond canned beans for sheer taste and potential.

Today we're talking about cooking with both dried beans and canned beans (yes, those have a place in our kitchens, too!), starting with what they are and ending with you in the kitchen.

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

Day 11 Lesson: Beans

What are beans? Let's actually back up and talk about legumes. Legumes are plants that produce their seeds in long pods. Those seeds, a.k.a. beans, are what we eat, and there are a bunch of them: black beans, pinto beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas and many more. These days you can even find artfully-named heirloom varieties. Legumes tend to be universally high in protein and fiber, and therefore rate pretty high on the nutrition front. Legumes dry very easily and can be stored for months on the shelf; they are also easy to can, giving us a quicker, ready-made option for days when cooking beans from scratch isn't an option.

What do beans taste like? The flavor of beans can vary greatly depending on the specific kind — chickpeas are nutty and a bit sweet, green lentils are grassy and earthy, black beans are umami-rich and earthy. When cooked properly, the texture of beans should be wonderfully creamy, but firm, with zero grittiness. If you don't like one variety, try another — there are plenty to choose from!

Dried Beans vs. Canned Beans in Cooking: Dried beans that you cook yourself and canned beans can be used interchangeably in most recipes —1 (15-ounce) can of beans contains about 1 1/2 cups of beans. Home-cooked beans almost always have better flavor and texture, but canned beans are really quite acceptable. If you have time, cook beans yourself; if you just want a quick meal, use canned beans. Stock your cupboard with both kinds so you have the option.

Cooking Dried Beans: Dried beans merely need to be rehydrated in liquid to make them ready to eat or use in other recipes. You can do this on the stovetop, in the oven, in a pressure cooker, or in a slow cooker — links for each method are in the Homework section below. Soaking beans ahead of time gives them a jumpstart on cooking, cutting down the total cooking time and improving their texture, but you can get away with a quick soak or even no soaking if you don't have time. Larger beans like lima beans and chickpeas can take a few hours to cook; smaller beans like lentils and split peas can be cooked in 20 to 30 minutes. Taste the beans every so often as they cook; when they're creamy and you can stop eating them, they're done. Once cooked, these beans can be added directly to your dish; leftovers can also be frozen for 3 to 4 months.

Pro Tip!

There's a belief that cooking beans with salt will make them tough and inedible, but that's actually not the case. If you soak the beans with some salt and then cook them with more salt, they end up evenly cooked, creamy, and perfectly seasoned!

Cooking with Canned Beans: Canned beans almost always need to be rinsed of the viscous canning liquid before being used in a recipe. Pour them from the can into a strainer and rinse them under cool water until all the residue is washed away. Canned beans tend to be much softer and more prone to mushing than home-cooked beans, so it's usually best to add them close to the end of cooking and give them just enough time to heat through.

The Gas Factor: Ok, yes, beans have a well-deserved reputation for causing gas and intestinal discomfort. A few beans mixed with other ingredients aren't likely to cause many side effects, but you'll likely notice it if you eat a bean-heavy dish. Some people can develop a tolerance over time if they eat beans as a regular part of their diet, but some people will always feel a bit of (or a lot of) discomfort. In all my time as a food-lover and recipe editor, I have yet to discover a sure-fire way of avoiding this problem. My honest advice if you love beans but they cause you discomfort: stock some Bean-O in your cupboard.

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Every lesson has three homework options. Maybe you've already got one down, or you just have time for a quick study session. So pick one, and show us by tagging it with #kitchnschool on Instagram or Twitter.

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Study: Take a look at all these different ways to cook dried beans. Does one of them work for you?

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Practice: Get creative with a can of beans! Open up a can and find a way to use it in a new way, like mashing with herbs and olive oil into a simple dip or making quesadillas for dinner. Here are some more ideas:

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

Improve: Ok, ready? Time to cook a pot of beans. Grab yourself a bag of dried beans — any style, any kind — and choose one of the cooking methods above. Taste your beans at a few points in the cooking process so you can see how the texture really changes. If you already cook beans from scratch fairly frequently, try cooking a new kind of bean you've never tried before, like one of the heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo.

The Kitchn Cookbook & Beans

The Cooking School was inspired by our new book, The Kitchn Cookbook and there's plenty in the book to help your Cooking School experience.

Today's tip: See page 243 for a really fabulous side dish with beans: Corn and Black Bean Skillet with Caramelized Cheddar Cheese.

5 Recipes to Practice Cooking Beans

  1. Crispy Pan-Fried Beans with Wilted Greens
  2. Crunchy Black Bean Tacos
  3. Weeknight Lentil Soup with Lemon Yogurt Cream
  4. Chickpea, Barley and Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Mint and Feta
  5. One Pot Pasta e Fagioli

The Kitchn's Cooking School

The Kitchn's Cooking School is 20 days, 20 lessons to become a better cook at home. Every day we'll tackle an essential cooking topic and explain what you should know. Each lesson has three different homework options, so you can choose the one that teaches you what you need. Whether you want to refresh your skills or start from scratch, come to school with us!

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