When I grow my own beans, such as black beans, I will allow the beans to stay on the plants in their pods until the pods have turned yellow and crumble easily. I have learned the hard way not to wait too long to harvest the beans--if you leave them on the plant for too long, the pods will split open, and your precious beans will be on the ground. Great if you want them to self-seed, but not so awesome if you were planning on storing them for food use!
|These black beans have a ways to go before they are ready to harvest.|
Purchasing Dried Beans
If you are not growing your own beans, you can purchase dried beans from many sources. My local grocery store sells them in bags by the rice and other grains, but they also have bulk bins full of organically grown beans, which means you can decide just how much you want to buy. Check around your area to find good deals on bulk, organic beans.
When you are purchasing dried beans, there are some things you should be looking for:
- Brightness of Color: Beans should have a bright, uniform color. Loss of color usually means that these beans have been sitting on the shelf for a while. The older dried beans are, the longer they take to soften when cooking (and sometimes they never get soft).
- Uniformity of Size: The beans should be around the same size so that they will cook evenly.
- Visible Defects: If the beans look very cracked or contain pinholes (most likely from insects), you will want to pass on buying them.
You can make your beans in as big of a batch as you'd like. For instance, last night, I did about six pounds of dried beans. And since dried beans will expand to 2-3 times their size when soaked, that made a lot of beans! My freezer is full of beans for a while now, so I won't have to worry about making another batch for some time. You may want to make as little as one pound at a time, or as much as 10 pounds. Either way, the preparation method is still the same, you will just need to make sure you have a big enough pot to account for the expansion of the beans as they soak.
The procedure for cooking dried beans is basically the same for all types of beans and legumes, so choose whichever variety you like. I'd have to say my favorite beans are black beans, but I also like kidney beans, navy beans, butter beans, and lima beans. Just keep in mind, the smaller the bean, the less soaking and cooking time that will be required.
Soaking and Cooking Dried Beans
Basic Dried Beans
Dried beans or legumes
Note: Begin soaking your beans the day before you actually plan on cooking them. The beans will need to soak for 24 hours.
- Begin by rinsing and sorting your beans. Remove any foreign particles or damaged beans.
- Place cleaned and sorted beans into a pot large enough to accommodate the beans once they expand. Completely cover the beans by a couple inches with filtered water. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to the beans and water, and swish it around to mix.
- Leave the beans to soak for 24 hours in a warm place. Check the beans once in a while to make sure they stay covered in water. If the water level goes down, add more. You can also completely change the water a couple times if you'd like.
- After 24 hours of soaking, your beans are ready to be cooked. Drain the beans and rinse them well. Return them to the pot, and cover by an inch of filtered water--just enough to keep the beans from drying out while boiling. If the beans begin to dry out during cooking, add more water.
- Bring the pot to a boil over moderately high heat. If any foam forms on top of the water, skim it off. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until beans are tender. Cooking time will vary depending on the bean and how long the soaking time was. Check the beans after a half hour for doneness. Keep checking every 15 minutes until the beans are tender (this could take up to 1 1/2 hours depending on the bean).
- Once the beans are tender, remove the pot from heat. Allow the beans to cool before packaging and freezing
Freezing Cooked Beans
When I freeze my cooked beans, I normally drain and rinse the beans, and then freeze them in 2 cup batches (since there are approximately 2 cups in a 15 ounce can). I use our vacuum sealing food saver to freeze bags of beans that store nicely in our chest freezer. These bags are air tight, and I have never had a problem with freezer burn using these. However, if you don't have a food saver, you can use plastic containers or freezer bags, but you may want to leave in the bean liquid rather than draining it in order to prevent freezer burn.
Once you have your batches of beans frozen, you can then use them just as you would canned in any recipe. You can take them out in the morning to thaw if you'd like, but often times I find that they will do just fine added to a cooked dish frozen--you just need to give them a couple extra minutes to heat all the way through. Of course, if you froze them in their liquid, you'll want to thaw them first so that they can be drained before using.
Last night, I decided to make a "bean mix." I combined five different types of similar sized beans in the pot and prepared them as above. The result was bags and bags of mixed beans that I can add to soups and casseroles--a great meat stretcher if you are trying to save money. Following is a slow-cooked casserole you can make to get started on cooking with your stash of frozen beans:
1 small onion, minced
1/2 lb. ground meat (you can use beef, venison, bacon, sausage--whatever your little heart desires)
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
5-6 cups mixed, cooked beans (choose about a cup of each type; for example, you could use a cup each of navy, kidney, lima, chickpeas, and butter beans--just mix and match your favorites)
1 cup corn
3/4 cup ketchup (we make homemade ketchup, but store-bought is okay too)
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
dash of pepper
Cook onion and ground meat over medium high heat until meat is no longer pink. Add garlic and continue cooking for another minute or two. Remove from heat.
In a large crock pot, combine the meat mixture with the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine.
Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours.