How to Cook Beans Perfectly

Mastering the skill of preparing beans is crucial and ranks high in importance among cooking skills. This is because beans offer a plethora of benefits. They are packed with flavor, easy to cook, and extremely affordable.

Some new vegans may initially feel unsatisfied with their meals, but beans can provide the same level of satiation as meat-based dishes, keeping you full for extended periods.

Moreover, beans come in a wide range of varieties, ensuring that you can continually explore new options without monotony. Not only are beans a fantastic source of protein, but most varieties are also low in fat.

Three Key Beans You’ll Want to Cook

Three Key Beans You’ll Want to Cook

Black beans and pinto beans are highly popular ingredients in Mexican cuisine and work wonderfully as fillings for burritos. They can also be served alongside rice, guacamole, and salsa on a Mexican-style supper plate.

Beans, including black beans and pintos, make fantastic leftovers. In many Mexican households, leftover beans are refrigerated and then fried up the next day to make Mexican-style refried beans. Simply mash the beans, add some water, and heat them in a frying pan with sautéed minced garlic in vegetable oil. For an extra touch, if you enjoy cilantro, stir in some chopped cilantro just before serving.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are immensely popular in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. They possess a distinct flavor and incredible texture, setting them apart from other bean varieties. One noteworthy characteristic of chickpeas is their higher fat content, which adds a richness of flavor absent in other beans.

One of the most beloved Indian dishes is chana masala, a delicious curry primarily made with chickpeas. This dish is typically accompanied by rice and samosas. Chickpeas also play a vital role in Middle Eastern cooking, serving as the main ingredient in two common foods: hummus and falafel.

While black beans, pintos, and chickpeas provide an excellent starting point for exploring the world of beans, don't hesitate to explore other varieties available at your local grocery or natural foods store.

Undoubtedly, one of the most renowned Indian dishes is chana masala, a flavorful curry predominantly made with chickpeas. This delightful entrée is often served alongside rice and samosas. Similarly, chickpeas hold significant importance in Middle Eastern cuisine, being the key ingredient in two widely consumed foods—hummus and falafel.

While black beans, pintos, and chickpeas serve as excellent introductory options for exploring the world of beans, there is a multitude of other varieties waiting to be discovered. Your local grocery or natural foods store offers a diverse selection of bean varieties, inviting you to further expand your culinary horizons.

Buying Beans: Canned, Aseptic, and Dried

Beans are commonly available in two forms: canned and dried. Canned beans offer exceptional convenience as they come pre-cleaned and fully cooked, requiring only draining, heating, and seasoning according to preference. Many canned beans are already prepared and ready to be heated. When purchasing canned refried beans, it's important to check the ingredients for the presence of lard. Traditional Mexican refried beans were traditionally cooked with lard, so some canned varieties still contain it. However, canned refried beans can be easily found in stores.

Prepared beans are also increasingly offered in foil-lined plastic aseptic pouches. This type of packaging is commonly used for Indian-style bean dishes like chana masala and bean-based soups such as dal. Refried beans can also be found in aseptic pouches, but it is advisable to check the ingredients for lard. Since the packaging is lightweight, these beans are often more cost-effective compared to canned options when purchased online.

While dried beans are less convenient than canned or aseptic packaged beans, dried beans possess three notable advantages over their canned counterparts:

  • Affordability: Dried beans are priced at less than half the cost of canned beans, making them a budget-friendly option.
  • Taste and Texture: Dried beans offer superior flavor and texture compared to canned beans, allowing for a more satisfying culinary experience.
  • Environmental Impact: Dried beans have a smaller environmental footprint, as they require less packaging and energy for transportation, resulting in reduced waste and carbon emissions.

The ideal location to purchase dried beans is the bulk section of a reputable natural food store. These markets typically offer a wide selection of bean varieties, usually around a dozen options. Dried beans available in bulk are remarkably affordable, and in many cases, they are organically grown, adding to their appeal.

How to Cook Dried Beans from Scratch

Preparing dried beans is a straightforward process. Begin by pouring the beans into a mixing bowl. It is essential to run your fingers through the beans to ensure there are no hard pebbles that could potentially damage your teeth (this step should never be skipped, as pebbles can be unexpectedly found). Next, add enough water to the bowl to completely submerge the beans. Since the beans absorb a significant amount of water, it is important to use an ample amount to ensure they remain fully submerged.

Cover the bowl to protect the beans from dust and let them soak for a minimum of four hours. Many individuals prefer to start soaking the beans before going to bed, so they will be ready to cook in the morning.

While soaking is not strictly necessary, it significantly reduces the cooking time and saves energy. Even with soaking, beans may still require several hours of cooking either on the stovetop or in a slow cooker.

Instant Pots are the Easiest Way to Cook Beans

I always disliked cooking beans because it required constant monitoring of a noisy kettle on the stove for hours. However, using an Instant Pot eliminates such hassle. It cooks beans in a significantly shorter time, operates quietly, and automatically shuts off and signals when the beans are done. If you occasionally cook beans from scratch, I consider an Instant Pot (or a similar "multicooker" from a lesser-known brand) practically essential.

Alternatively, you can opt for a pressure cooker, which also cooks beans quickly, but you'll miss out on the convenience of a timer and automatic shutdown. Additionally, I strongly believe that an Instant Pot is much safer than traditional stovetop pressure cookers, as the built-in sensors largely eliminate the risk of overheating and potential explosions.

Proper Cooking is Vital

The cooking time for beans can vary depending on the bean variety, cooking method, and whether they were pre-soaked. Chickpeas, white beans, and kidney beans typically require the longest cooking time, sometimes taking a few hours when simmered on a stovetop. Generally, larger beans require more cooking time. Soaking dried beans in water overnight significantly reduces stovetop preparation time, typically by at least 20 percent.

You can determine if your beans are properly cooked by easily smooshing one against the roof of your mouth using your tongue. It is important to thoroughly cook beans, as many varieties contain a toxic sugar-protein called lectin, which is destroyed through cooking.

This is particularly crucial for red kidney beans, which contain a highly toxic form of lectin known as "phytohaemagglutinin." Due to the high levels of this substance in red kidney beans, it is advisable to soak them for at least five hours before cooking and discard the soaking water. The same caution applies to cannellini beans and broad beans, although these varieties are not as commonly consumed as red kidney beans. However, it's important to note that this warning should not discourage you from enjoying these delicious bean varieties. Proper soaking and cooking make beans as safe to eat as any other food.

While the soaking and simmering process may seem daunting, it's worth noting that certain varieties of small, dried beans cook quickly without the need for soaking. Split peas, lentils, and mung beans are examples of such beans. Split peas are commonly used in split pea soup, and they should be simmered until they mostly break apart, creating a thick and creamy base. Yellow split peas or mung beans can also be simmered and then combined with roasted cumin seeds, curry powder, and salt to create a very popular bean soup.

Beans and Flatulence

Beans are an exceptional food choice due to their affordability, deliciousness, and health benefits. However, their reputation for causing intestinal gas can be a hindrance. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate or eliminate this issue. The gas is caused by a sugar in beans that the body struggles to digest. When this sugar reaches the intestines, bacteria feed on it, resulting in the production of gas.

The good news is that cooking beans dissolves a significant portion of this sugar into the cooking water. After the beans are cooked, it is advisable to discard the cooking water and use fresh water for further preparation. This simple step makes the beans much more digestible. The same approach applies to canned beans—discard the liquid they come in and use fresh water, which can greatly reduce gas production in your meal.

While thorough cooking improves digestibility, it's important not to overcook the beans to the point of making them mushy. Blending or mashing beans for dishes like hummus or Mexican-style refried beans is another effective way to enhance their digestibility.

How to Make Vegan Bean Dishes More Digestible

If you haven't achieved satisfactory results with the previous tips, don't give up until you've tried cooking with split peas and lentils. Many individuals who struggle with digesting black bean burritos may find that a light yellow split pea dal causes no digestive issues at all.

Furthermore, it's essential to recognize that a little knowledge and attention can alleviate long-standing digestive difficulties. The body's digestive powers are strongest around mid-day. Therefore, if you plan to consume beans and other challenging-to-digest foods, it's best to do so during the early afternoon. Ideally, consume these foods on an empty stomach when you are genuinely hungry, as this promotes quicker digestion and reduces flatulence.

Troubles arise when people eat late at night or consume hard-to-digest foods while their digestive system is already occupied with processing previously eaten food. It is evident that the longer it takes for hard-to-digest foods to pass through the intestines, the more gas can form. Therefore, being genuinely hungry before consuming beans ensures that they do not linger in the digestive tract for an excessive period of time.

Beans are an Ideal Vegan Food

Transitioning smoothly to a plant-based diet involves exploring delectable vegan foods that can replace the meat, milk, and eggs you were accustomed to consuming. Beans, being filling and protein-rich, can play a crucial role in this process. To fully embrace the world of beans and reap their benefits, it is advantageous to venture beyond familiar options like pinto beans and explore the delightful, vibrant, and flavorsome lesser-known varieties.

If you aim to increase your consumption of beans, consider investing in an Instant Pot and a cookbook dedicated to vegan bean recipes. The cost of these items is easily recouped due to beans' affordability. By incorporating more beans into your meals, you will enhance the diversity, healthfulness, and satisfaction of your diet.

While beans are a simple food, there is a wealth of knowledge surrounding them. Similarly, rice complements beans perfectly in terms of flavor and protein content. Therefore, understanding both beans and rice is essential, as they go hand in hand. Maximizing the benefits of one without learning about the other would be incomplete.

Are Vegan Diets Healthy?

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Joining a vegan lifestyle promotes good health, preserve numerous animal lives, and contribute to the fight against climate change. Also, the culinary experience of vegan food is truly delightful and becoming more accessible every year.

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