Friday, July 31, 2009

A bean revelation

I am a bean snob. I use canned beans for hummus and other bean dips, and they can be handy for those days when you're in a hurry, but I really prefer to cook my own dry beans. I like beans very firm, and canned beans are way too mushy for me now that I'm used to cooking my own. Also, canned beans, while quite cheap, are several times as expensive as dry beans. I got two quarts of cooked chickpeas out of a 1-lb bag, which cost 99 cents. Also, I save chickpea cooking water. I keep it in the freezer and use it as a broth for soup or to give some extra liquid and flavor to curries. I'm sure other bean cooking water could be used this way too, but my freezer will only hold so much. The moral of this paragraph is that dry beans are awesome.

It's very easy to cook dry beans. The only reason it's not done more often is that it takes a long time. The normal instructions are to soak beans overnight, or at least six hours, in plenty of water and then cook them for an hour or so the next day. Since I like my beans firm, I usually only cook them for about half an hour after a cold-water soak. It's really not bad. The alternate method is the quick soak, where you bring the beans to a boil in plenty of water, then turn off the heat and soak for just a couple hours before proceeding as with the regular soak. This is a method I've only used once or twice, many years ago. I should add that I have no problems getting most beans to the perfect firmness, but chickpeas have always taken a really long time to get soft enough, even after a soak. I should also note that I often don't soak small beans at all. Navy and black beans only take about an hour to get soft enough for me without a soak.

Well, the other night, I wanted to have chickpeas the next day, and I decided to give them a quick soak instead of the slow one. I started them around 7:30 and planned to cook them that night after a couple-hour soak. Of course, I forgot about them on the stove. As I was drifting off to sleep around 11, I remembered them. I was too tired to do anything about them, so I just put the whole pot into the fridge so the cooking water wouldn't get funky overnight. Out of curiosity, I bit into one to check the texture, and it was almost the texture I wanted. I was amazed. In the morning, I checked again, and while they were pretty firm, they were definitely edible. I saved some at that super-firm stage, which is nice for salads, and cooked the rest for about 20 minutes, until they were at the texture I like them for curries and soups. This is about 1/4 of the time it takes after a regular soak. I like my beans for hummus softer, so if I make hummus with these beans, I'll probably cook them for another 20-30 minutes. But somehow the "long quick soak" magically made my beans cook up in 1/4 the time they normally do. I am going to try a quick soak the. I might not have to cook them at all after that.

The long quick soak technique:
1. Rinse beans and place in large saucepan with plenty of water.
2. Bring the water to a rolling boil.
3. Turn off heat and leave the beans there for three hours.
4. Put the pot into the fridge six hours or overnight.
5. In the morning, cook the beans to your liking. It shouldn't take long.

Maybe my standards are low, but this was very exciting for me. You still need to plan in advance if you want to cook beans, but it cuts the time you need to spend in front of the stove, and it should lower the amount of electricity it takes to cook beans. (There was an article about that on Slate recently, so I was thinking about it.)

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