I‘m not a huge fan of celebrity chefs. Although I do love a bit of Heston and Jamie and of course Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I find the whole chef tendency to over complicate cooking a bit off-putting.
But there is one cheffy technique that I do love and embrace frequently.
I’ve written about it before but basically it’s the concept of ‘mise en place’ or preparing ingredients / components for a dish so that they can be used during service.
There’s actually a whole program I teach at the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School on how this concept can be applied to make your life as a home cook as easy as possible.
Anyway today I want to talk about legumes in general and dried beans in particular.
In my own cooking, I’ve been finding myself cooking up a big batch of beans or lentils each week. I’ve come to think of it as ‘legume of the week’ and I’ve been having heaps of fun with it.
So when I got this question from Juliette, I had another reason to talk beans…
“I know it might sound lame, but can you talk about easy ways to deal with dried beans and lentils? The whole pre-soaking thing drives me away from them, thinking it’s too much planning/commitment in advance.”
I know the whole world of pre-soaking can sound a little intimidating but really it’s not that tricky. You just need to know a few things…
What needs pre-soaking?
My rule of thumb is simple:
1. Lentils DON’T need soaking
2. Larger legumes like beans and chickpeas do.
1. It speeds up the cooking process by partially re-hydrating the beans.
2. It helps avoid gas by ‘pre-digesting’ the beans.
This is the more important reason for me. Basically beans contain complex carbohydrates that are difficult for our bodies to digest and often cause the ‘toots’ associated with the ‘musical fruit’. Soaking allows enzymes in the beans to become active and start breaking down or ‘pre-digesting’ these carbs, so we avoid the whole gas thing.
How long do I need to pre-soak?
Ideally somewhere between 8 and 48 hours. Which is a pretty big window, really.
And if you are short on time, remember that some soaking is better than no soaking. So if you only have 2 hours or 6 hours that’s better than nothing.
Longer than 48 hours isn’t the end of the world either. But if you leave them too long the beans will start to rot. But you’ll know if that happens. So don’t stress about it.
What happens if I change my mind?
Totally no problems. You can drain the soaked legumes and keep them in the fridge for a week or so before cooking. Or if you need longer they can be frozen to cook whenever you’re ready.
And how do I cook them?
Easy. And it’s the same for all legumes. Put them in a big pot and cover generously with water. Then bring to the boil and simmer until the legumes are tender.
For lentils this will be in the 15-30 minutes range.
For beans and chickpeas you’re looking at usually 1-2 hours. But I have known some beans to take longer so be prepared to keep on cooking and testing for doneness.
It wasn’t that scary, right?
Bean Bowl with a Poached Egg
Don’t you love the idea of a ‘bean bowl’? I think it just sounds so comforting and warming. I wish I could say I thought up the idea on my own but it was inspired by a photo on Instagram by the lovely Sarah from My New Roots.
This is one of those recipes you could take in any direction depending on your mood and what you happen to have in the house. So please just use this as a springboard for ideas.
Enough for 3-4
2 onions, peeled & diced
500g (1lb) cooked or canned beans
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock or bean cooking liquid
1 bunch cavalo nero, kale or other greens, sliced crosswise
poached eggs, to serve
1. Heat a little oil in a saucepan. Add onions and cook over a medium heat until soft.
2. Add beans and liquid or stock and cavalo nero or greens.
3. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or until the greens are cooked and everything is hot.
4. Taste. Season and serve with a poached egg on top.
paleo – replace cooked beans with a head of cauliflower or 2 heads broccoli cut into florettes and change the name to ‘veg bowl’. Serve with extra poached eggs to make it more substantial.
vegan – replace poached eggs with a few good handfuls of cashew or other nuts.
carnivore – after the onion has cooked, fry some pancetta or bacon or crumble some sausages in and cook until browned then continue as per the recipe.
egg-free – if poached eggs aren’t your thing replace them with some cheese. Shaved parmesan is lovely or you could use any soft cheese like buffalo mozzarella, goats cheese, ricotta or even blue.
other greens – collards, spinach, silver beet, chard, kale, baby spinach.
different legumes – feel free to use any cooked bean or lentil here. You could also use ‘non-legumes’ like brown rice or quinoa or millet.
ps. A huge THANK YOU for all the lovely emails, comments and well wishes for Fergal! We really appreciate it and couldn’t be happier.
I always thought newborns were boring with the sleeping all day. Happy to report I was wrong. They are so much fun!
And if you were wondering, I will post some photos. Just give me a chance to figure out how to photograph a wriggling body. Definitely a whole lever more complex than photographing food!