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Winter Beans

beans1Fart scenes in “Blazing Saddles” notwithstanding, beans are good for you.
Need more fiber in your diet? Reconstituted dried beans are definitely your friend.
Want to move away from meat as a protein source? Ditto.
Looking for natural sources of trace minerals? Ditto.

And don’t think you have to eat soy beans (and the processed foods made from them) in order to get the benefits. Yes, soy beans are protein power-houses, but a lot of people are concerned about GMO soy beans By 2012, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that 94% of all soy beans grown in the US are GMO.

Finding organic dried beans seems like a good idea, yes? Whether you like black beans, red beans, pintos, Great Northerns, Cannellini, garbanzos, you can find organically grown in the health food section of your store or perhaps even being grown by local farmers. For convenience, a lot of people eat canned beans, but if you are concerned about sodium, cooking your own is definitely the way to go. Some of the sodium content figures on canned beans will curl your hair.

And, actually, cooking dried beans is very simple – but many people feel the time necessary is literally a pain. And I agree – if I were cooking beans for only one meal. But here’s the deal: Cook a LOT of beans over a weekend, let them cool and then package 1-2 cups each into plastic bags and freeze. These literally are as convenient to use as canned beans and no added sodium. Reconstituted dried beans, on their own (that is, not canned) have very very low amounts of sodium. So, how to do it?

Sort, clean, boil, slow cook. We can all remember this, right?

beans1SORT. No matter how clean the beans look when you get them, even if they come in a fancy bag with a fancy label on them, you want to sort through them and get rid of any dirt, small rocks (be careful; these rocks are very clever and if they are the same size/shape as a bean, they will go through the machnery), and odd/broken beans. I use a light-colored plate to sort beans, except for Great Northers and Cannellini beans – you want something that will give you contract. Put a fistful of beans on the plate and shake them around and get rid of anything that is not bean-like. Pour into a big bowl. Keep doing that until you have as many beans as you want. A good starting point is a one-pound bag – that will, under washing, soaking and cooking, turn into a LOT of beans in your freezer.

beans2CLEAN. Even the nicest looking beans will be dusty in the bag. Trust me on this one. Take that bowl of beans that you have just picked through and run them under the water. Swish them around with your hands. Pour the whole mess through a strainer or colander. Rinse again and again; when the water is clear, you’re good to go.

beans3BOIL. Now, some people cover the beans with hot water and let them sit out overnight. I actually have ended up with crunchy beans that way, but this way works for every single bean, every single time. So, it’s my ‘go to’ for dried beans. After rinsing the last time, take the whole mess of beans and put in a really big pot; you want a pot which once you have put all your beans into it, you can put enough water to go over the top of the beans. You might need a Dutch oven or just the biggest saucepan you have. Cover with water. Put on the lid and put on a high heat and bring to a boil. Take off the lid and leave at a boil for 5 minutes. That’s it. Five minutes. Take the pot off the stove and pour everything through the strainer. Yes, you will lose a little bit of the phyto-nutrients but it won’t be much.

beans4SLOW COOK. You now have hot beans. That’s it. Just hot beans. Not hot beans with the liquid they were boiled in. Take the hot beans and put them into a slow cooker (if you don’t have a slow cooker, then put them back into the biggest pot you have and cover with water, bring to a slow simmer and then turn on low and keep them there, covered, until a bean can be mushed with a spoon). Cook on the slow cooker for 1.5 hours at high and the turn down to low. Test a bean after 4-5 hours. If you can mush the bean with the back of a spoon, they are done. Turn off the slow cooker and allow to cook. Package up the cool beans in plastic bags (Ziplock tm bags work really well for these) and put into the freezer. Whenever you want to put beans into a cooked dish, just pull out a plastic bag and dump into the pot. If you want to put cooked beans into something like a salad, you’ll need to take them out and defrost them.

Now, your old aunty has one final piece of advice: Don’t be scared of beans. Any dish that you make that you are using meat for, you can find recipes on the internet to recreate the dish with reconstituted dried beans:
Spaghetti and meatballs or meat sauce? Try this Italian favorite. Italian Pasta e Fagioli If you are a ‘don’t eat pasta’ person, then substitute your favorite whole grains.

Hamburgers? Try bean burgers – my family loves them and you can make up the mix, make burgers and freeze them for almost instant dinners. There are probably as many recipes as there are cooks out there and look up black bean burgers and also white bean (like Cannellini) burgers as well because frankly, they all work and taste fantastic. Like Indian food? These burgers go really well with Indian-based sauces. Like Mexican food? Well, you get the idea.

Once you get into the swing, and have beans available in your freezer or on the shelf, you can put together a meal that your family (yes, even kids like bean burgers and enchiladas) will love. Cheap, satisfying, and full of great stuff for you. Beans.

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