Pantry Staples: Beans

 

We are in lockdown and there is no end in sight, yet, even in all this uncertainty one thing is sure – never before have we been so thoughtfully connected to the food that we eat. Procuring food, whether at the grocery store or through Uber Eats, is no longer a mindless act. So let’s delve deep into one food item that we all have in our pantries: the humble bean. 

Most varieties of beans and other legumes like lentils and chickpeas are available canned and/or dried. Certainly there is something to be said in terms of convenience regarding canned beans. Open the can and voila, you’re ready to eat them right away. And of course you can save the water they’re packed in, aquafaba is an incredible ingredient, once only the province of vegans, it can now be found in everything from cocktails to patisserie.

 

Aquafaba Grapefruit Sours. Find the recipe at Top With Cinnamon

 

Cans of mixed beans are also a great idea because they offer a panopoly of bean types all cooked and ready for use. Grab a can of mixed beans and you’ve got the makings of a great classic bean salad right there, without the insanity of cooking five different kinds of beans. The knock against canned beans is that many come out of the can with a uniform softness, not mushy exactly, but maybe not as al dente as a purist might like.

 

 

Of course anything you can do with canned beans you can do with their dried brothers and sisters, it just takes a little longer. But we all have a little more time on our hands these days, right? The advantages to dried beans over canned is all about their overall taste and texture. You can control the ‘doneness’ and taste of beans if you cook them yourself. A lot of folks are intimidated by the thought of cooking beans, but if old cowboys could do it on the open plain, surely you can handle it in your home kitchen.

 

 

To soak or not to soak? Most cooks advise that you soak the beans before cooking. Anywhere from six hours to overnight, so this is a preparation that requires a little advanced planning. Cooks Illustrated recommends salting the soaking water with 2 teaspoons of salt per quart of water to guarantee the proper level of seasoning and ensure even cooking. After soaking, you can simmer the beans in the soaking water or drain them and cover with fresh water. All in all we like this method as espoused by Bon Appetit : “Forgot to soak your beans? Don’t stress out. You can quick soak beans and get a similar effect. Just put those beans in a pot, cover them with water, bring them up to a boil, and then cover the pot and turn off the heat. Let them sit for at least a half an hour in the hot water, drain them, and go from there.”-Bon Appetit

 

 

“Forgot to soak your beans? Don’t stress out.”

 

When it comes to chickpeas, experienced falafel makers will tell you that falafel made from rehydrated chickpeas not only taste better, they will not fall apart as readily as falafel made from canned chickpeas. And speaking of chickpeas, what’s better for dipping, snacking and spreading than a big batch of hummus?

 

 

This classic dish is as healthy as it is delicious and is a snap to make. Purists will aver that hummus made from re-hydrated and cooked chickpeas is tastier than the canned variety. But you can make your own decisions. Why not try both and have a blind hummus tasting with the family? Here’s the famous Zahav recipe, with step by step video, from Food 52.

Other beans purée beautifully too, like this beautiful white bean purée with brown butter or the shockingly good kidney bean dip by Nigella Lawson.

As for lentils, this article by Eileen Cho in Chowhound contains a great tip from Parisian chef duo behind Mokonuts – store the  lentils in their cooking liquid, they’ll taste amazing the next day. And lentils require no pre-soak and cook up very quickly.

 

White bean purée with brown butter

 

And don’t get hung up on using canned beans, they actually do make a great hummus, are a fabulous addition to salads, and the variety of dips one can create with the different bean types is endless. Now is the time to experiment.

We are living in uncertain times, this is like nothing any of us has ever experienced. And while we shouldn’t put too much pressure on ourselves, to write our memoirs, or become a yogic master, it is a gift to be able to get into the kitchen in a way we might not have had time to before. That means you get to decide about the beans here.

Try them canned, cook some yourself – note: garbanzos take about 700 hours to cook! – and then taste the results. Try different recipes. Become your own version of Nigella and experience the majesty of the bean.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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