Yes, they call me the Bean Queen! Well, actually, they don’t. But they should given my scholarly attention to beans over at least a decade. I realize now, in the time of CoronaVirus and quarantine, you all are finally discovering dried beans as the ultimate shelf stable protein source. But, while living part time on an isolated ranch in Sonoma, I’ve been working the dried bean thing from every angle for a long time. I have knowledge to impart.
Earlier last month, I told you of a bean cooking breakthrough that had me banning the ubiquitous yellow onion from my bean cooking. This insight was just the latest innovation in a long scholarship of bean cookery. Let me elaborate.
First of all, my credentials: in addition to a lifelong love of beans, I spent a month in Oaxaca, Mexico’s culinary capital, much of that time in cooking classes. I would say that’s like studying at Harvard, Stanford, Oxford or Cambridge. Because who are a bigger bean experts than the Mexicans? I’ve studied with the best. And here are the two principal guiding premises I’ve learned:
Mexicans are shocked, appalled, I tell you, that we insist on the ridiculous habit of pre-soaking beans. First of all, it is a complete myth that it reduces any gassy after-effects of beans. The cure for that is to eat more beans. Because the more your digestive system deals with beans, the more it will be able to deal with beans. Secondly, Mexicans will tell you that long pre-soaking causes the beans to start the fermentation process and yields an off taste. So horrified are true Mexican cooks at the concept of pre-soaking, that Diana Kennedy, the Doyenne of Mexican Cooking, adds these instructions to most of her award-winning cookbooks: “If you are instructed to pre-soak beans, you should, afterwards, discard the soaking water AND the cookbook that told you to do that pre-soaking.” (It should be noted that Kennedy, who is actually English but has lived in Mexico for decades and is regarded as a national treasure by the Mexicans, is the best kind of cultural mashup: the culinary instincts of a Mexican with a strict English nanny approach to cooking instructions.)
The second thing I learned about bean cookery, not only from Mexico, but from my Guatemalan cleaning professional (who makes a mean pot of beans) is that the first cooking of beans should yield a plain canvas upon which you will add color. I have seldom had better beans than Guatemalan Dube makes and I would beg her for her cooking recipe. “Senora Lisa, beans, water, a little salt when they are almost cooked.”
“But it’s impossible that you’ve given me the recipe. I taste spices and chiles…”, I would say.
“That’s for after,” is Dube’s advice, “First you cook the beans as your base.”
For the record, when I had her taste some of my beans and wondered why they weren’t as tasty or as lovely a color as hers, she would tell me not to cook them with onion. Or indeed anything. It took me a few years, but I finally let go of the idea that I needed some sort of mirepoix or mixture of onion and garlic in my bean pot. What I did standardize on, as you’ll find in my earlier post, is one carrot, cut up into confetti sized pieces and quickly sauteed in olive oil. And I always cook my beans in stock. But I religiously follow Dube’s advice to add flavor ingredients after the beans are cooked. You want hot beans jumping with Jalapeños? Cook your beans first, then add some diced peppers when you reheat the beans before serving. Because that’s the Latin American way: cook a big pot of beans at the beginning of the week. Put them in the refrigerator. Now make them into whatever you want them to be throughout the week. I should note that these instructions don’t just work for Latin American recipes, but for all recipes using beans.
There you have it. And it’s probably worth my repeating my fail-safe bean recipe — for any beans for any purposes.
- Start with the best dried beans you can find, preferably those with a “Best Used By” date stamped on them.
- Finely dice one carrot and saute a few minutes in good olive oil.
- Add rinsed beans, cover well with stock.
- Cook 45 minutes on high pressure in a pressure cooker. Let pressure drop naturally. (I’ve found 45 minutes to be a good point where you can assess the doneness of most medium sized beans and/or adjust liquid levels. If your beans aren’t quite done or need more liquid, make those adjustments, put the Instant Pot back up to high pressure for ten or 15 minutes. Let pressure drop naturally and check again for doneness.)
- Set aside beans or store in the refrigerator to use in a recipe later in the day or throughout the week.
There you have it. From me, The Bean Queen.