Some Interesting Things About Beans
Beans are legumes. Legumes are the edible fruits or seeds of various shrubs, trees, and other plants that are members of the Fabaceae family. The family includes peas, beans, and lentils, as well as tamarind, fenugreek, licorice, and carob.
In some Eastern cultures, legumes have been a basic dietary staple for more than 20,000 years. The lima and pinto bean were cultivated for the first time in the very earliest Mexican and Peruvian civilizations more than 5,000 years ago, being popular in both the Aztec and Inca cultures.
Most parts of the world have their favorite legume. East Asia’s favorite is the soybean. The popular legumes of the Middle East are lentils, peas, and chick peas. In India, many varieties of legumes are made into dahl.
The United States is by far the world leader in dry bean production.
Beans provide rich taste and texture, are an important source of protein, are inexpensive, and are easy to prepare.
When grains are eaten with legumes (such as rice and beans), All the amino acids are present which provides "complete protein".
A serving (1/3 cup of cooked beans) contains around 80 calories, no cholesterol, lots of complex carbohydrates, and little fat. Beans are a good source of some B vitamins, potassium, and fiber, Eating beans may help prevent colon cancer, and reduce blood cholesterol (a leading cause of heart disease).
Legumes may cause intestinal discomfort in some people. You can minimize this by changing the soaking water several times when you prepare dried beans, or by switching to canned beans. Rinse canned beans well to wash off excess salt. If you are increasing your bean consumption, drink adequate fluids and exercise regularly so that your gastrointestinal system can handle the increased dietary fiber. Your body will eventually adjust to the increased fiber.
There are several hundred varieties of beans. Here are a few of the most popular ones.
Adzuki Beans are small, with a mahogany color They have a rich flavor and a solid texture. Adzuki beans come originally from Asia. The name means "little bean" in Japanese. Because of the red color, adzuki beans are used in festive meals in Japan. They are also used often in macrobiotic cooking. They are used to make a sweet paste used to fill steamed buns and other Asian pastries (see my blog from 9/21/06). They can also be used to make Mexican dishes. They are good with ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, and scallions to garnish.
Black Beans, sometimes called turtle beans, have an almost mushroom-like flavor and soft floury texture. These beans are medium sized, oval, with a matt black color. They are the most popular beans in the Costa Rica and Cuba. Black beans make good soups. They are good seasoned with cumin, lime, lemon, tomato, hot peppers, cilantro, and garlic.
Black-Eyed Peas, also called cow peas, have a scented aroma, creamy texture and distinctive flavor. These beans are characterized by their kidney shaped, white skin with a small black eye and very fine wrinkles. They are originally from Africa, and are popular in the southern part of the United States. Black-eyed peas are quick to cook, and need no pre-soaking. They are good in salads. They are good seasoned with soy sauce, vinegar, black pepper, scallions, and garlic.
Cannellini Beans are large, white, and shaped like a kidney bean. They are good seasoned with oregano, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, onions, and basil.
Cranberry Beans are known for their creamy texture with a flavor similar to chestnuts. Cranberry beans are rounded with red specks, which disappear on cooking. These beans are a favorite in northern Italy and Spain. You can find them fresh in their pods in Autumn. They also freeze well.
Garbanzo Beans or chickpeas are the most popular bean in the world. They come originally from the Middle East. They have a firm texture, and are most often pale yellow in color. In India they also use red, black, and brown chickpeas. Garbanzo beans are usually the base for hummus and falafel. They are also good in soups and pasta dishes. They are good seasoned with soy sauce, garlic, tomatoes, lemon juice, ume paste, tahini, and Italian herb seasonings.
Dark Red Kidney Beans are large and kidney-shaped with a deep glossy red color. They have a solid flavor and texture. These beans are produced mainly in the northern U.S.A. They are popular in southwestern and Mexican dishes. They are good seasoned with cumin, onions, chilis, tomatoes, and garlic.
Light Red Kidney Beans have a solid texture and flavor. They are large and kidney-shaped with a pink color. This bean is popular in the Caribbean region as well as in Portugal and Spain.
Lentils are one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world. They are used throughout the Mediterranean regions and the Middle East, and are especially popular in India, where they are cooked to a purée and called dhal. Dozens of varieties of lentils exist in addition to the brown variety most common in the West, with colors that range from yellow to red-orange to green. Lentils are good in soups, salads, and with roasted vegetables. They are good with garlic, curry spices, Italian spices, soy sauce, and mustard.
Large Lima Beans are large and flat with a greenish-white color. They have a buttery flavor and creamy texture. This bean is named after Lima, Peru.
Green BabyLima Beans originated inPeru . The baby variety is used in Japan for making desserts from bean paste known as "an." These are medium-sized flat beans with a greenish white color, buttery flavor, and creamy texture.
Pink Beans have beautiful pink color and are of medium size (similar to the Great Northern and the Pinto) and have a refined texture and delicate flavor.
Pinto Beans are the most widely produced bean in the United States. They contain the most fiber of all beans. They are medium size with an oval shape, and are speckled reddish brown over a pale pink base. They have a solid texture and flavor
Small Red Beans are particularly popular in the Caribbean region, where they are normally eaten with rice. Dark red in color, small red beans are also smoother in taste and texture than the dark red kidney bean.
White Beans (including Great Northern, Navy, and small white pea beans) are used in recipes for baked beans and soups. They are good seasoned with garlic, black pepper, liquid smoke, mustard, bay leaf, and thyme. Great Northern Beans are popular in France for making cassoulet (a white bean casserole) . These beans have a delicate flavor, thin skin, and are flat, kidney shaped, medium-sized white beans. Navy Beans are small, white and oval with a refined texture and delicate flavor. These are the beans used for the famous Boston and English baked beans, because their skin and fine texture do not break up on cooking. These beans were named for their use as part of the U.S. Navy diet during the second half of the 19th Century.
Great Northern Beans and Navy Beans are sometimes refered to as Haricot Beans.
Buying Dried Beans
When buying dried beans, try to buy ones of uniform size so they will finish cooking at the same time.
Try to buy beans that are not too old. Fresh beans have a better taste and texture when cooked. Older beans take longer to cook. The fresher dried beans are glossy, vibrant, and plump, while the older ones are sallow, withered, and dull. Beans from speciality companies, especially the organic suppliers, are usually fresher.
Storing Dried Beans
Store dried beans in glass jars. Put a few dried chili peppers in the jar with the beans to keep insects away from the beans.
Sorting and Rinsing
All dried beans need to be sorted through for small stones and other impurities. This can be done by spreading them on a shiny stainless steel (the better to see the impurities) cookie sheet, and pushing them back and forth a few times. Next rinse the beans by putting them in a bowl and covering them with water, still watching for impurities. Pour off the water.
Soaking Dried Beans
Place the picked-over and rinsed beans in a large bowl ( large enough for the beans to double in size) and cover with 4 cups of water for each cup of beans. Soak overnight (or for 6 to 8 hours) (in the refrigerator if the kitchen is very warm). The next day, drain, discard the soaking liquid, and cook according to your recipe. Overnight soaking is the recommended method because the beans will hold their shape better not crumble as easily. However, when overnight soaking is not possible, a quick method is to clean and rinse the beans, cover them with water, boil them for five minutes, remove from the heat, cover them and let them sit for an hour, drain, and cook as usual.
Cooking Dried Beans
Raw beans contain small amounts of toxins that are destroyed by cooking.
Older beans take longer to cook.
Dried beans usually double or triple in size when cooked.
Adding 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil to the cooking water will keep beans from boiling over.
The taste of beans can be improved by adding a small amount of brown sugar or molasses. This also helps the beans to retain their shape.
Macrobiotic cooks suggests adding a piece of kombu to the beans while they are cooking. This will help to soften the beans and it adds flavor.
To "boil" beans, use three parts water to one part beans. Some of the longer cooking varieties, such as chickpeas, need four parts water to one part beans. Use a large enough pan to allow for the beans to expand (2 of 3 times their volume). Bring to a boil over high heat, immediately reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally. Simmering, rather than boiling, prevents the beans from bursting their skins. Make sure the beans are always covered with water. During cooking, add more hot water if necessary, and stir. Cook until tender (1 to 2 hours for most beans.
To check for tenderness, pinch or bite a few beans at a minimum suggested time, then every 10 to 15 minutes until the beans are tender.
Cool cooked beans quickly and refrigerate. They can turn sour if left at room temperature for too long.
To prevent beans from becoming tough, do not add acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, vinegar, or wine, until the beans are cooked. Also, do not add salt until the beans are cooked. Add these ingredients after the beans have cooked through, and simmer for 15 minutes longer to blend the flavors.
To save slightly overcooked beans, add acidic ingredients such as vinegar, tomato juice, or citrus juice. Start with 2 teaspoons acid per quart of beans. Remove from the heat and stir. Rice vinegar is the mildest choice of vinegar. If the beans are really overcooked, mash them and make bean dip.
For the best flavor and texture, cook the beans the day before they are to be served, and cool them in the cooking liquid.
For more flavor, add dried herbs, sauteed onions, and/or garlic about halfway through the cooking time.
Overcooked beans fall apart, releasing bean starch which thickens the cooking liquid. This may be desirable for some recipes.
When substituting one kind of bean for another in a recipe, use beans that are of similar in size and shape to the beans called for in the recipe.
To Bake Beans
Baking beans creates the glazed, crusty top characteristic of baked beans and bean pot casseroles. Traditional containers for baking beans are earthenware bean pots, usually 3 or 3½ quart size. The pot and lid should be glazed at least on the inside and must be lead-free. You can also use glass or ceramic casseroles. Metal baking pans are not recommended.
To bake beans, preheat the oven according to the recipe instructions. Then combine the drained cooked beans, seasonings, liquids and any other ingredients in the bean pot or casserole. Cover it and bake for 1 to 1½ hours. To brown the top of the beans, remove the lid and bake the beans 15 to 30 minutes longer.
Leftover beans should be cooled and then refrigerated in a airtight container. They will usually keep at least 4 days.
Bean dishes thicken as they cool and their seasonings and flavors continue to blend, making many bean dishes taste better the next day.
Reheat beans over low heat and stir them often. Beans scorch easily over high heat. If the beans are too thick, stir in some water a little at a time.
Plan for leftover beans. With leftover beans you can make quick, easy lunches, salads or appetizers.
If you plan to freeze cooked beans, it’s a good idea to undercook them. Cook the beans about 30 minutes less than the suggested cooking times. This will help the beans maintain their shape and texture as they thaw and reheat.
Freeze beans in 1 to 2 cup portions so they will be easy to thaw and use. Freezer containers should be airtight and moisture proof. Leave enough space at the top of the container for expansion of the beans. Fill the container to 1 or 1½ inches from the top, making sure the beans are covered with liquid so they won't dry out.
Cooked beans will keep in the freezer 2 to 3 months. After that time their flavor and texture will begin to deteriorate.
Thaw beans overnight in the refrigerator, for several hours at room temperature, or for about an hour in a pan of warm water. When the beans can be removed from their freezer container, put them in a saucepan 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.
The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook, by Diana Shaw, published by Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York
Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tips, by David Joachim, published by Rodale
Professional Vegetarian Cooking, by Ken Bergeron, published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc
The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman, published by broadway Books, New York