how to host brunch and still sleep in OR the simple beginners guide to cooking with dried beans

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Since I’ve been getting into eating Slow Carb, there has definitely been a lot more beans on the menu.

While I am loving exploring the different members of the legume family, I have been tending to stick to the convenience of canned beans. At times I’ve felt a little guilty. Not because I find canned beans to be inferior, it’s more because I know they use a lot more packaging. And they aren’t as economical as cooking beans from scratch.

So today I thought I’d share one of my favourite dried bean recipes.

It’s super simple. Just pop everything in a pot, cover and cook overnight. While you sleep, the house gets filled with the most amazing smell and your little dried beans are transformed into a thing of beauty.

Perfect for a long leisurely Sunday brunch with friends when you want to maximise your sleep in and still be a wonderful host.

the beginners guide to cooking with dried beans

common varieties of dried beans
Haricot (navy) beans are the most common variety used for baked beans. If you can’t find them, cannellini beans, northern or black-eye beans make a good substitute. If a recipe calls for ‘white’ beans, any of these varieties will be great.

Soya beans have the highest protein content of all dried beans and apparently are the easiest to digest.

I recently learned that butter beans are the same as lima beans. One of my students thought I was playing tricks on her because she hates lima beans but didn’t mind one of the butter bean dishes we covered in class.

Broad beans, aka fava beans or shell beans, are available dried but I find the dried version no where near as good as fresh.

Borlotti beans (cranberry beans) win the prize for the most beautiful bean. Slightly larger than haricot or cannellini beans, you could use them in the same place. I always get disappointed when they lose their gorgeous marbled surface. Which is probably why I don’t use them very often.

how to choose the best dried beans

Dried beans will keep for years, but they tend to taste the best and require the least amount of cooking if they’re used in their first year. So even for dried beans it would appear that fresh is best.

It can be difficult to tell the age of your dried beans just by looking at them. So best to buy from a supplier you trust. Preferably someone who does a roaring trade in beans so the turnover is high.

to soak or not to soak
One of the painful things about cooking dried beans is feeling like you need to be organised to soak the beans overnight before you begin to cook.

Soaking has some benefits. It reduces the cooking time and can reduce the incidence of beans splitting. If you throw away the soaking liquid, there are some people who find this helps minimise the whole gas thing (see below).

But soaking isn’t critical.

Apparently in Mexico, where beans are a big part of the diet, they usually don’t bother to soak their beans.

to salt or not to salt

Again a little bean controversy here. Some cooks claim that salt in the cooking water hinders the softening process. Where as others feel that the beans don’t taste as properly seasoned unless the salt is in from the beginning.

I like the third approach of waiting until about half way through cooking and salting then. A bit of salt fence-sitting, as it were.

a word about the gas
The oligosaccharides (complex carbohydrates) that are responsible for beans bad reputation for wind aren’t readily digestible in our stomachs. So when they get to our intestine, bacteria have a feast and you know what that leads to.

The problem compounds are also found in vegetables, and our bodies can get better at digesting them the more we eat.

Soaking is meant to help reduce the effects. Or you can use additives that are designed to reduce flatulence, if you like.

There are people who are allergic to beans. So if they do give you lots of problems it’s probably best to consult your physician.

Undercooked beans are asking for problems.

I recently served some beans that we’re more on the al dente side, with not-so-sweet-smelling after effects. I then cooked the leftovers until almost mushy and risked another bean-meal. Happily the extra cooking helped solve the problem.

how to convert recipes from canned to dried

Standard can of beans (400g /14oz pack weight) = 240g (8.5oz) drained beans
240g (8.5oz) drained beans = 100g (3.5oz) dried beans

So if a recipe calls for a can of beans, you could use 240g (8.5oz) cooked beans or weigh 100g (3.5oz) dried beans and cook them.

Or for 100g dried beans, you could use 1 can drained beans – just be careful to adjust any liquid in the recipe.

what to do if your beans take forever to cook
The ability of beans to soften is linked to the pH (acidity) of your cooking water.

If your tap water is naturally more acidic, it can be difficult to get beans to soften. If you struggle with this, buying deionionised (neutral pH) water to use for cooking will help.

Adding bicarb soda makes the water alkaline and guarantees bean softening. But it also destroys some nutrients so isn’t ideal.

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update: to cook beans in a slow cooker…

Reduce the amount of water added to 1 cup and cook on HIGH for approximately 8 hours.

video version of the recipe


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8hour baked beans recipe
[5 ingredients]
serves 6

400g (14oz) dried cannellini, haricot or northern beans
2 onions, peeled & chopped
2 cans tomatoes (400g / 14oz, each)
3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1 ham hock

1. Preheat oven to 120C (250F) fan forced. Or 140C (280F) for a regular oven.

2. Place beans, onion, tomato, Worcestershire sauce and ham hock in a large oven proof dish, preferably with a lid. Add 2 1/2 cups water and 2 tablespoons brown sugar if you prefer your beans a little sweet. Cover tightly with foil and the lid.

3. Bake beans for 8 hours, or until beans are super tender and the ham is falling off the bone. If it looks a little dry, add some more water. If it looks too soupy, increase the oven temperature and cook uncovered until the sauce has reduced to your liking. Season well.

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