Yes, dried beans can be a pain in the ass. There are so many ways it can go wrong, and the process is drawn out. But I've been practicing making all the possible errors, and it has finally started to go right. As it turns out, there is no secret. You just throw everything, raw, into a big pot and make sure the water doesn't all evaporate before the beans are done.
I was inspired by Tamar Aldar in reading her The Everlasting Meal. Her recipes read like poetry, making them fluid and graceful, and she simultaneously weaves in the morality of eating. There is one. Trust me. (Read Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver for more)
Even better, while you read you never have to say to yourself, "I don't have this or that ingredient" because she teaches you how to make soup, and what you're looking for while cooking vegetables. The details fall away when you understand the process. Her first chapter, How to Boil Water, says it all.
And so, she inspired me to learn to cook beans. Or to make bean broth, as she would say. You're trying to make the water taste good just as much - or more - than you want to bean itself to cook.
And so i began burning beans and learning what to add for flavor. This one succeeded. Wonderfully, even. And so I am sharing it.
Beans. White ones. Tender beans with a precious broth. Beans that could be a soup or a bowl of beans, or mushed into a sauce over pasta:
1-2 c small white beans or Butterbeans
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
7c WATER plus another 5 as you go
Good additions, include a handful of as many of these as you have, roughly cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 bay leaves
4 tsp dried marjorum
the rind of parmesan cheese
a cup of white wine
A handful of whatever soft herbs you have, thrown in at the end.
- Don't add veggies that will break down into mush after 3 hours of cooking. No potatoes, no parsnip, no leafy greens at this point, though they'd be great additions once the beans are cooked.
- On the other hand, my celery was so soft that I bent it in 3 before chopping, and it was still delicious. Veggies simmered with olive oil for 3 hours are very forgiving.
- Two lessons for good beans: you only have to have two things to make them good :time and lots and lots of water. All the rest just makes them better.
Throw the beans in a bowl and cover them substantially with water. Leave them. For a while. Up to 24 hours, I guess, but at least overnight.
Drain them. Put them in a fairly large pot with more than double the water (thats my first 7 cups in the ingredients).
Turn on the eye and bring it to a boil. While this arrives, wash and cut up all the vegetables you are adding into bite-size pieces. Whatever size will work. Throw them into the pot with your spices.
The minute the water hits a boil, turn it down to right below a simmer. Do not cover. Scrape off the scummy white stuff that rises to the top if you want. If not, no worries.
Check this every 30 minutes, adding a cup or two more of water as the water boils off. I added 6 cups before the end of this... I could have added 2 more, I do believe.
2 hours later start checking for doneness. Then cook them a bit longer. Adlar suggests tasting 5 consecutive beans. When all five are done, you can turn off the heat. She also quotes another author as saying you should be able to blow off the skins with a breath. Yes, I said.
Mine took 3 hours. I threw in the parmesan rind in the last hour, and that was good. I also added more water than I needed to in the last 30 minutes because I wanted to have mooooore of that delicious bean broth.
- If you have none of the "additions" listed above, cook the beans in water with olive oil and salt. When they're done sautée an onion (or garlic or whatever) and throw in chopped tomato. Then the cooked beans and broth. Also amazing.
- For a soup: Adler says to "add more broth than beans" and heat it up. For another soup, purée it.
- For a sauce, mush these beans up and serve over pasta. Probably more olive oil would be a good addition.