Now we’ve been dealing with the Virus That Shall Not Be Named for several months now, I feel like I may be somewhat late to the table with this advice. However, I feel that in this new year (Happy 2021!) there may be a few people still out there who have decided the McDonalds Drive-Through and Uber Eats Lyfe is no longer for them, and want to do more home-based cooking…but maybe don’t know where to start.
I’ve compiled a list and will be discussing, one by one, many of the widely available, basic pantry staples in the standard North American and European diet that will help you create a meal out of almost anything (within reason), some instructions on how to cook certain items, and links to my favourite recipes to get you started. Please see my other posts Back to Basics: Kitchen Equipment (coming soon!), and Back to Basics: Condiments, Sauces, Marinades, and Rubs (coming soon!) for more recipes and meal ideas.
Ahhh, beans. Everybody talks about them being essential for one’s pantry. So much so that everybody panic-purchased bags and cans of them at the start of the pandemic, leaving large swathes of empty shelves for miles. however, I’ll bet you money that most people still have them in their cupboards, untouched, waiting for that magical time when someone tells them how to prepare them…and also hoping that time never comes.
Let’s be honest here; dried beans are viewed as the disaster prepper’s number one pantry item for a reason. They are incredibly inexpensive, bountiful in variety, are shelf stable in their dried or canned forms for months and even years, and are endlessly versatile in uncountable recipes from the most basic and humble to the finest cuisines. Seriously, beans are nature’s gift that shouldn’t be overlooked.
So what exactly constitutes a “dried bean”? According to an article written by the University of Wisconsin:
Dry beans are produced in pods and belong to the family of plants called legumes. A legume is a plant that produces seeds in a pod (fruit). The physical shape of the seed helps distinguish beans from peas and lentils. Usually, beans are kidney-shaped or oval, peas are round, and lentils are flat disks. Most dry beans grown in this country belong to the species Phaseolus vulgaris, or common bean.https://oconto.extension.wisc.edu/files/2011/02/The-Importance-of-Dry-Beans-in-Your-Diet.pdf
The term “dry beans” refers to beans that are dry-packaged in bags, or rehydrated and pre-cooked in cans. Dry beans include popular beans like pinto, navy, kidney (dark and light red), and black beans. Green beans, string beans and soybeans are not considered dry beans. – wisc.edu
Yes, canned beans are relatively inexpensive, time-saving, convenient, and shelf-stable for months. However, the high sodium content alone should be enough of a reason to at least try cooking what you likely have pounds of in your pantry, yes? Let’s make this easy for you.
Simple steps: beans are best when they are pre-soaked, in cool, clean, unsalted water. This for two reasons; one, pre-soaking reduces the time required to cook the beans, and two, it assists in breaking down some of the indigestible sugars within the beans that cause digestive problems such as flatulence, heartburn, reflux, and bloating. It is recommended that you soak all dried beans with the exception of black-eyed peas (still a bean) and mung beans. Minimum soaking times vary from variety to variety; this comprehensive chart from the website Heal With Food has a listing of recommended minimum soaking times for most varieties of dried beans.
The Whats4eats website has a great infographic on the basic steps of cleaning, soaking and cooking your beans. I advocate a minimum of 6 hours (overnight is best) in a bowl in the fridge. However, with the advent of the InstantPot pressure cooker, you don’t even need to do that anymore. Here’s a recipe from website Instant Pot Cooking that shows you how to quick-soak beans in your IP and save loads of time.
The ideal pre-soaking time for each dried legume depends on a number of factors, including its size, maturity at harvest, moisture level, age/freshness (older beans must be soaked for longer), and digestibility of the carbohydrates it contains.
As for what to do with them once they’re ready to use, as I said before there are squillions of recipes out there; as such I cannot add much of value to this conversation, except to point you to one of my recent posts on the Tastiest Baked Beans Ever (and yes, they are hecka delish). As I continue to work on my own bean repertoire, I will continue to add more recipes to this site. Maybe I’ll have enough for a compendium one day! (Would that be a com-bean-dium?)
In the meantime, here are some links to some of the most popular and trusted recipe artists out there making great food, such as Bon Appetit’s 86 Bean Recipes to Always Keep in your Back Pocket, A Taste of Home’s compilation of IP bean recipes, 75 Best Instant Pot Recipes of 2020, and The Spruce Eats’ 25 Easy and Hearty Slow Cooker Bean Recipes.