Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Cooking

Expert advice on beans: soaking, boiling, salting and more

In winter, there's nothing more comforting than a warm, meltingly tender bowl of beans — whether as soup, side dish or cassoulet.

The best starting point for those meals is dried beans, one of the most frugal items at the grocery store and healthiest forms of protein. Dried beans also can help many of us succeed at those New Year's resolutions to save money and eat better.

The problem is, dried beans scare home cooks. They require forethought, because most recipes call for soaking them overnight. Plus, there's a lot of conflicting advice. To soak or not to soak? When to add salt? To cook in the soaking liquid or start with fresh water?

We contacted experts to sort through confusion: Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of half a dozen cookbooks focused on Mediterranean cuisine; Megan Lambert, a senior instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C.; and Steve Sando, owner of Rancho Gordo, an heirloom bean company based in Napa, Calif.

Cooking tips

. Soak the beans ahead of time. Place the beans in a pot covered by 3 inches of water and let sit for 6 to 8 hours. The next day, bring the beans to an initial boil and then turn down to a simmer. Depending on the age and type of bean, it can take an hour and a half or longer to cook the beans. Add water from time to time if the beans absorb it all.

. Do not salt the beans until they are tender because salt can turn out mealy beans instead of creamy ones. (Chick peas and runner beans need to be soaked.)

. Or you can bake. Sando suggests a method from Russ Parsons, food editor at the Los Angeles Times. Place 1 pound of beans and 6 cups of water in a Dutch oven and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, put a lid on the pot and place it in a 350 degree oven. Cook until the beans are done but not disintegrating, 1 to 2 hours. Add 1 teaspoon of salt halfway through the cooking time. Parsons swears the beans taste better this way.

. Consider doubling the beans that you need for a recipe and freezing half. That way you have them ready for the next recipe.

Consider The Slow Cooker

Lambert, whose husband is Mexican, often cooks black beans at home. She soaks the beans overnight and then brings them to a boil. She then transfers the beans and their cooking liquid to a slow cooker, adding a chopped onion, a bit of lard and some epazote, a Mexican herb that some believe lessens beans' gas-inducing effects.

Epazote can be bought fresh at Latin groceries or dried at Penzey's stores or online, penzeys.com

Seasoning Options

. Salt pork, side meat or a smoked turkey leg.

. Sauteed diced celery, onion and carrot.

. Quartered onion, bay leaves and black peppercorns.

. Garlic, sage and rosemary.

The Problem Of Gas

There is debate among our experts about how to lessen the gassy effects of eating beans. Some cooks insist on dumping the soaking liquid for this reason. But Sando and others insist it does not matter. The only remedy is to get your digestive system used to eating beans. Or as Sando says: "The secret is to eat more beans."

Where To Buy

Buy beans where the turnover is frequent so you won't end up with old beans. We found the most diverse selection at Whole Foods and other food cooperatives, where a pound can cost $2.50 to $4. The ethnic food aisle at grocery store chains, like Food Lion, also offered a decent selection with prices between 99 cents and $1.89 a pound. Heirloom varieties — seeds that have not been used in modern large scale farm production, but rather passed down through family or farm — are available online.

Comments
Party like itís Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

Party like itís Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

As a kid, I always looked for doors into other worlds. I blame Narnia. In C.S. Lewisí classic novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, four British children step through a magic wardrobe into Narnia, a world filled with talking animals and plenty ...
Published: 12/12/17

From the food editor: How to make perfect, hot Crispy Roasted Potatoes

Sometimes, you just want a hot, crispy potato.I didnít get home from work the other night craving a full dinner; I arrived at my house with cartoon visions of potatoes in my head, and knew I had to make it happen.I wasnít looking for a fast food fren...
Published: 12/12/17
Cooking challenge: Making homemade edible Christmas gifts

Cooking challenge: Making homemade edible Christmas gifts

Should I infuse this vodka with bacon?Thatís not a question I expected to ask myself on a Sunday morning, but here we are. This Christmas, Iím giving homemade gifts: infused liquor and chocolate fudge. But I didnít realize it would be so hard to find...
Published: 12/12/17
Lightened Shepherdís Pie comforting, quick

Lightened Shepherdís Pie comforting, quick

When the weather gets cooler, we want to tuck into comfort food in our home. Doing a recipe makeover on a tasty-but-less-than-healthy dish is one of my favorite challenges. Today, Iím taking on a wintertime classic with my Lightened Shepherdís Pie. T...
Published: 12/08/17
Green Salad With Pumpkin Vinaigrette celebrates holiday season

Green Salad With Pumpkin Vinaigrette celebrates holiday season

By MELISSA DíARABIANSummer may officially be the season of green salads, but wintertime versions have advantages that make them worth exploring. The cooler weather seasonable greens are hearty and darker green, which makes them nutrient-rich. And, th...
Published: 12/08/17
My holiday tradition: Making a whole bunch of beef Wellington

My holiday tradition: Making a whole bunch of beef Wellington

For the past 20 years, my family has looked forward to a boat parade party hosted by some of our dearest friends. The hostess provides cocktails, appetizers, dinner, desserts and a trombone choir to perform from a balcony overlooking her pool. My fav...
Published: 12/06/17
Tampa Bay Times readers share their treasured holiday food traditions

Tampa Bay Times readers share their treasured holiday food traditions

When we opened this yearís call for reader submissions to any treasured holiday food tradition, I had no idea what to expect. That was kind of the point. I wanted to see what such a wide gamut would inspire. And you delivered. The stories that reader...
Published: 12/06/17
Five ideas for slow cooker meals, from curries to cake

Five ideas for slow cooker meals, from curries to cake

Listen up. I know you and the slow cooker may have a tortured relationship. You chop, you season, you set the timer, hoping that a sultry, bubbling dish will greet you in 4 to 8 hours. What really happens is often more dry, more bland, more meh than ...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17
From the food editor: A weeknight dinner pork chop recipe perfect for this time of year

From the food editor: A weeknight dinner pork chop recipe perfect for this time of year

It was one of those divine cooking evenings. I didnít have a plan for dinner, but I did miraculously have a number of ingredients on hand that work really well together: pork chops, sweet potatoes, apple cider leftover from a Thanksgiving gathering, ...
Published: 12/05/17
We tried pickle-flavored candy canes (w/video)

We tried pickle-flavored candy canes (w/video)

It is a bright December morning, and I am trying pickle-flavored candy canes. I eye the ingredients: sugar, corn syrup, water, citric acid, artificial dill flavor, FD&C Yellow, FD&C Blue 1. All very upstanding. All very appropriate for a classic holi...
Published: 12/04/17
Updated: 12/07/17