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Featured bean recipe: Cassoulita, deluxe braised beans with a southwestern accent.
Bean nutrition
Always cook beans
Cooking tender and tasty beans
Add this to improve digestion
Alternate cooking methods     Reducing gas
Storing cooked beans     Bean links

Dried peas and beans

Nutrition: Dried beans and peas are an essential source of protein and soluble gel fibers in the vegetarian diet, and good for everybody else. There is a lot of information about dried beans and peas on the web. A healthy food, beans have abundant complex carbohydrates, soluble fiber, iron, and folic acid, yet contain little or no fat and no cholesterol. In scientific studies, they have been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce the occurrence of certain types of cancer, and normalize blood sugar. Beans contain natural phytochemicals and protease inhibitors that are being studied as anti-cancer agents.

Always cook thoroughly: Though legumes contain small amounts of toxins--lima beans contain cyanide, for example, and dried beans contain lectins--cooking destroys these compounds, making the toxins harmless. Cooking also destroys enzymes which would otherwise oxidize fats and prevent us from digesting proteins. Not many people are allergic to beans, folks who are, most commonly react to peanuts and soy beans. However, feeding horse beans (fava beans) to some people of Mediterranean descent can cause severe to lethal reactions.

Most beans except soybeans have a protein called "incomplete" because it is low in the amino acid methionine. Your body can use the amino acids that are abundant to make a high quality, complete protein if you also eat grains, seeds, dairy or meat at some point during the same day. Beans are one of the best sources of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower serum cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar. Insoluble fiber is also considerable in beans.

Cooking: So how to get the best, tenderest and tastiest cooked beans?

  1. 1 pound of dry beans makes 7-9 cups of cooked beans.

  2. Start with the freshest dried beans you can buy. Good beans are smooth and bright. Old beans show cracked seams, or are dull or wrinkled. The older the bean, the longer the cooking time, and a really ancient bean will never get tender. Store beans cool and dry, not in the damp refrigerator.
  3. Spread on a cookie sheet to pick out dirt or gravel, then wash in a big pot or bowl. Discard any skins, shrivels, or broken bits that float. Then drain in a colander, rinse again and place in the rinsed bowl or pot, adding 1 quart of water for each cup of dried beans.
  4. Bring the beans and fresh soaking water to a boil for two to five minutes before soaking and you need to pre-soak only two to four hours, covered. Even for overnight soaking, boiling first will help prevent the beans from souring because it destroys any wild yeasts. In the summer, soak beans in the refrigerator if you soak overnight.
  5. Drain and change water before cooking. Using the soaking water as part of the cooking water preserves a few vitamins but promotes gas formation, while boiling and draining off the soaking water removes over half the complex sugars that cause gas.
  6. For maximum tenderness, do not add sweet or salty foods or sauces, or acid foods like tomatoes until the beans are almost or fully cooked. Calcium or acid causes the outside of the bean to stay tough. When fruits and vegetables are cooked, heat causes the insoluble pectic substances (the "glue" between the cells) to convert to water-soluble pectins, which dissolve, allowing cells to separate and soften. Both calcium and sugar, however, hinder this conversion to pectin. Cook beans with an ingredient containing these substances,such as molasses, the beans won't get overly soft. That's why Boston baked beans can be cooked for hours and still retain their shape. If you cooked the same beans without the molasses, you would have "refried" beans (bean mush).
    Cooking beans in "hard" water, which contains calcium, also prevents softening.
    Acidic ingredients prevent softening, but in a different way. When calcium and sugar prevent cells from coming apart, the starch inside the cells can still swell and soften, so the beans will be tender. With acids, starch within cells can't swell, so the cells don't ever break down. So don't add acidic ingredients, such as tomato sauce, wine, lemon juice, or vinegar, until the beans are already tender.
  7. Altitude matters for tenderness. People trying to cook beans other than split peas or lentils at altitudes above 2000 feet may also end up with tough beans. Cooking times double. At high altitudes it helps to use a pressure cooker for those beans for which it is safe, those which do not foam excessively or lose their skins. At high altitudes, you may want to use canned beans which are already cooked if available. Bean flakes and bean grits can be cooked at high altitudes with better results than whole beans. Beans which have been boiled 5 minutes, and soaked overnight, cook more evenly at high altitudes.
  8. Presoaking speeds cooking times. Soaked garbonza beans and soybeans take about three hours to cook at sea level. Most other presoaked beans take 1 to 2 hours from the time the water comes to a boil, is turned down to a simmer, and covered, the time to boiling depends on the amount of beans. Not pre-soaking increases cooking time up to 1 hour. Split peas, blacked peas, pigeon peas, small dahl and lentils do not have to be presoaked, they only take about 25-60 minutes to cook if not pre-soaked. The only exception: if you are going to cook these small beans in the same pot with your rice, presoak them so everything gets done at the same time.
    You can tell if a bean is fully soaked. When you split it, each half will be flat, not dented, and the color will be even all the way through, not dryer looking in the middle.
  9. Sprouted beans cook in about the usual time. Sprouting beans increases vitamins and protein, reduces carbohydrate and reduces gas.
Tenderizing: Cooking tips to improve bean digestion.
  • Mixing in 1 T of unsalted papaya meat tenderizer per pound of beans before cooking helps decrease any problems with digestibility.
  • Some herbs and spices also help, especially ginger and marjoram.
  • Cooking with kombu seaweed also improves digestibility and flavor.
  • Add epazote to the beans when cooking. Epazote, a little-known herb also called Mexican Tea, helps break down the offensive gas-causing sacchrides, but some folks joke dried epazote smells a little like old socks, itself.

Alternate ways to cook: Adjust the cooking time for other cooking methods

The Musical Fruit: Bean burps and other explosions

When you begin adding beans to your meals, try serving only moderate servings with a big salad or plenty of green vegetables to lighten the meal. Eating small amounts of beans daily ( - C cooked) helps the bowel adjust to digesting beans with less gas formed. The good news is that eating small amount of beans regularly WILL cause you to develop better bean-digesting enzymes.

Bad cooking can make beans harder to digest by undercooking. Use the cooking hints above for tenderizing beans.

Some bean burps result from a shortage of bean digesting enzymes. Beano®, a natural enzyme product, partially digests stachyose and raffinose, two of the most gas-forming sugars in beans, the same way Lactaid® breaks down lactose milk sugar, allowing the intestine to digest and absorb nutrients before they reach the colon and start feeding the gas forming bacteria that live there.

If gas remains a problem, Beano® really does help sensitive guts digest beans. When you take a few drops orally, this natural enzyme changes the complex bean carbohydrates into easy to digest simple ones.

You can add more of your own starch-digesting enzymes from your saliva by chewing thoroughly. These starch digesting enzymes are ONLY present in the mouth, so gulp your beans at your own risk.

There is another problem with gulping. Some people get gas because they swallow a lot of air while they're eating. This can become a bigger problem if you have a cold, or if you have allergies or a sinus condition and tend to breathe through your mouth. My advice? Take smaller bites, chew them, and notice how you're breathing.

Besides presoaking and Beano® there are natural additives cooks use to make beans more friendly. Gastric stimulants such ginger, anise or fennel seeds can be cooked in the dish or chewed after. Some herbs are traditional, especially parsley, marjoram and epazote. Like fresh cilantro, epazote is loved by many, while others describe it as smelling like wet dirty socks... Yogurt tastes good with beans and the Acidophilus in yogurt will help keep gas-forming bacteria to a minimum. Fresh raw papaya, which assists in digesting proteins, can be served with bean meals, or papaya enzyme tablets tried after a meal.

Some beans naturally have only about 1/3 of the more gas-forming sugars. Pick from the low list if you are serving beans for beginners or the gas-prone!

Friendly beans:
black eyed pea
pigeon pea
split pea
93 Octane beans
whole soybean

Storing Cooked Beans

If chilled immediately and covered, cooked beans will keep up to three days in the refrigerator. Store in containers where the depth is less than two inches so it will cool quickly. Stir large containers occasionally while cooling to speed the chilling process.

Cooked beans freeze beautifully in their cooking liquid or in single layers in a Ziploc bag. Beans maintain their shape better if they are slightly undercooked and thawed slowly. Thaw them overnight in the refrigerator or for about an hour in a pan of warm water. Last choice, only if you are going to use them all up right away, thaw for several hours at room temperature.

When the beans can be removed from their freezer container, put them in a saucepan with the desired cooking liquid to reheat and finish cooking. Bring the beans to a boil slowly over medium heat to avoid scorching. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. The time the beans need to simmer will depend on how undercooked they were when you froze them. If they were fully cooked before freezing, you need only reheat them.

Soaked uncooked beans can be stored in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Uncooked soaked beans, especially soybeans, can also be frozen--this tenderizes them by breaking down some cell walls.

Bean links: A personal favorite is "The Cook's Thesaurus".for even more bean info and a great bean cooking chart, go see the folks at Central Beans.