Monday, October 8, 2012

Dried Beans from Scratch

Years ago when I was young, there was a time (before the time of food stamps as we know them today) when our family was on welfare. That was a devastating and embarrassing time for all of us which incidentally doesn't seem to be the case these days. Back in those days being on welfare meant that my dad had to drive to the county seat and pick up a load of food. My vague memory of that is that most of it was pretty useless to us. There were things like dried milk powder, peanut butter (with half an inch of oil that had separated out and covered the top), dried beans, canned spam and other similar items. I think you get the picture. Most of it was pretty nasty, but we had to eat at least some of it - we had no choice. We most likely also received such staples as flour and sugar so most of the peanut butter got made into peanut butter cookies since none of us were fans of peanut butter sandwiches. I remember my mother trying to make the dried beans into something palatable.

She didn't succeed.

However, I have since learned the secret of making wonderfully delicious dried beans. After living in Brazil where beans and rice is the staple on every table at almost every meal, it was inevitable. So you might ask, "How do you make dried beans from scratch in a flash?" Here are some tips. Sort the beans (I usually make at least 2 cups of dried beans) making sure you take out any rocks, stones, foreign objects and moldy beans. Yes, you can occasionally find all of the above in your beans. Then wash them either in a colander or by covering them and straining the water off with your hand. Then cover the beans with water to about an inch above them and place the pan on high on the stove. Bring them to a boil and turn the burner off. Let stand for 1 hour. Now you have a choice. You can either put them in a slow cooker along with the liquid used to soak them or you can use a pressure cooker.

My choice is always the pressure cooker so I'll explain that method. Add about a tablespoon of oil to the beans and water, put the lid on and the petcock. Bring to pressure at medium heat. Allow the beans to cook with the pressure gauge gently rocking for 12 minutes. Set your timer and adjust the heat if the gauge (petcock) is rocking too vigorously. After 12 minutes, remove your pan from the heat and let the pressure come down. To speed up the cooling process, you can set the pressure cooker in a sink partly full of cold water. After all pressure is out, you can open the lid. Now saute onion and garlic and any kind of peppers (to your taste) in a small amount of oil. Add to the beans. Add salt, pepper and cumin (to taste) and let cook for about 10 more minutes. For the last couple of minutes, I usually add a tablespoon or two of chopped cilantro for that extra special flavor.

If you really want dried beans from scratch very conveniently, cook more than you need and put some of the beans into freezer proof containers and freeze for future meals. Add the seasonings later whenever you get ready to eat the beans. This way, you'll have delicious beans from scratch at a fraction of the cost you would pay for canned beans. You can use them to make chili, refried beans, baked beans, etc by changing the seasonings. I have served beans and rice to guests and they have raved about the taste. You won't find the same flavor anywhere else!

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