Bean Eureka!

BeansIf someone were to ask me (go ahead, ask me), I’d say that I like beans. Black beans and rice? I’m there. Baked beans? Bring ’em on. Refried beans and salsa toasted on corn tortillas? I eat that every day for breakfast.

It seems, though, that I don’t like beans that I cook. I have, in fact, ruined more beans than I care to count. Luscious Hidatsa Shield Figure beans that I grew in the garden. Those baby white limas from the co-op. I soak them and cook them through and the couple I pick out of the pot taste great. Then I drain them and “do something” with them, and the results are bland, uninspiring, or out-and-out yucky. Too many of my home-grown beans wind up in the compost.

But today, I cooked some great black beans and had a bean epiphany. The sad part is, I had at least part of this epiphany years ago. So I figure if I tell you all, maybe it’ll stick this time.

Bean Breakthrough #1: Beans Need More Salt Than You Think

Every instruction I’ve ever read about cooking dry beans warns against putting salt into the cooking water. Salt toughens the skins and makes the beans take a long time to cook – if they ever get past that terrible wet, crunchy, raw bean stage. HOWEVER…once they’re cooked, pull out the salt box. Now I never put more than about 1/4 tsp. of salt into anything, including a Giant Frypan of Sauteed Goodness that will feed two generously for dinner and have a lunch-sized serving left over. But tonight, aiming for the somewhat over-salted but way good black beans from my favorite fast-food “Mexican” place, I threw in nearly half a teaspoon into one can (ok, so I cheated) of black beans. A bit of of garlic powder and cumin, two bay leaves, and an hour at a low simmer and WOW. I’m floored. They are so good!

The embarrassing part of this is that I actually figured this out several years ago when trying to make decent vegetarian split pea soup. I discovered that if you used enough salt, split pea soup would taste like it had had a ham hock simmered in it instead of just tasting like wet beans.

Bean Breakthrough #2: I Do Not Like Bean Goop

I don’t know why, but I keep trying to cook thinks like bean soup or beans and rice that make use of the bean “broth” that the beans cook in. It always came out…goopy. Unpleasant color, bland taste…I just never liked it, with the exception of one really good white bean soup I made for New Year’s once. But that’s another post.

I finally have decided to just embrace my hatred of bean goop. Instead, I will use the tool given to us from on high to save us from bean goop: the slotted spoon. I’ll spoon the seasoned beans onto my rice, into my stir-fry, or into my soup and all will be well. The stuff left behind, I’ll pitch without a second thought.

Bean Breakthrough #3: I Have an Upper Bean Limit

I like beans best in smaller portions – a half a cup or less. Unlike many foods I like, I can’t eat them endlessly. And no, it’s not a…hem…digestive issue; it’s more like they start having a weird mouthfeel if I eat too many at once or if they’re uncut by something else, like rice.

And finally…

Bean Breakthrough #4: I Really, Really Do Like Beans

Beans are tasty. And hearty. And cheap. And nutritious. And you know what? I can cook them now.



  1. Suzie said,

    March 23, 2008 at 7:25 am

    Bean breakthrough #1- yes, it’s something I kept needing to re-learn. Adding enough salt to season a huge meal is totally different from what you’d do at the table, and it took some getting used to, because at first it just seemed disgusting & wrong to add so much, even if it was for 6+ servings. Adding garlic powder & cayenne lets you add less salt.

  2. TeacherPatti said,

    March 23, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    I love beans, too! (I sound like such a dork every time I post here…I’m always like “Me too, Emily!!” Sorry :)) I am going to try–let me repeat that–TRY to grow some in my Project Grow garden this year. I think I’ll have my students try to grow some too.

    Speaking of which…I got a project funded through that will make our gardening unit so much easier 🙂 I can’t wait to get started!

  3. Emily said,

    March 24, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Patti- Congrats on the grant! Woohoo! More gardeners!!

  4. bob said,

    March 27, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    I eat a lot of black beans,,, cause I simply do not like the way they kill animals at the slaughter house..

    So, now I eat eggs, and beans, and a little meat.

    I like Mexican food, so what I eat are a lot of tortillias, and for meat filling I eat black beans, and or eggs. Cheese, tomatoes, onions, ands a rick baylas mexican sauce that I make from scratch.

    last recipe was a lightly fried tortillia, black beans thsat I cooked with salt, and hot peppers, and some onion. All rolled into the tortillia, and it was fine, and I did not have to kill anything.

    I always salt my beans,, can’t tell the difference.

    As for growing them, well, yes, I grow them in my corn patch, as they have a place to climb, and they give nitro to the corn.

  5. Michael McC. said,

    March 28, 2008 at 8:08 am

    I discovered pressure cooking beans recently, and it’s changed my life. Seriously. And they never turn to goop.

  6. Buttercup said,

    April 2, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Two other points, though both may be obvious. Don’t cook beans in their soaking liquid (contains lectins, possibly unhealthful); rinse. Also, dry beans don’t store indefinitely. This seems unfair but fresh (this season) beans cook better. I’ve had beans refuse to soften up even after overnight in a slow cooker and I believe that it is because I had stored them for a couple of years.

    Glad to see you are a Fibonacci fan too.

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