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Tackling the dried bean

February 19, 2010

“Soup as a main course,
soup to being the meal,
–and when it is homemade,
it is soup to nourish the soul. ”
-Julia Child, The French Chef Cookbook

Every time I attempt tackling the dried bean, I am defeated, or nearly so.  Okay, not every dried legume escapes me–I’m fine with lentils and split peas, but those cook quickly and need no soaking.  It’s the chickpea, still hard after hours of soaking and boiling that forced me to substitute canned chickpeas in the Chana Masala I’d fallen in love with.  It’s the azuki bean, slipping from a simmer to a boil and giving me gritty Osekihan.   It’s the cannellini bean, underdone and inedible for that night’s baked beans (but damn tasty the next night, I’ll admit–the second soaking in its own juices did wonders).

After each failure, I swear off dried beans.  But I always come back.  I read about some new trick or just read some delightful recipe and think, well, I do still have those dried black beans . . . .  The tricks don’t work.  Emphatically.  Never.Ever.  Baking soda, bay leaves, sage leaves–nope.  Boil and quick soak–yeah, right!  Soaking only 8 hours?  Look forward to simmering for an extra TWO HOURS.  Yes, guilty of that last one with this recipe:

(Inspired by White Bean Soup in Twelve Months of Monastery Soups by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette)

  • about 1/2 pound dry white beans
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 leeks, sliced thin
  • 1 carrot, sliced thin
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced thin
  • several bunches of arugula (about two dozen small to medium leaves), sliced into ribbons
  • two or three sprigs parsley, sliced/minced/ribboned
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • olive oil
  • 1 bouillon cube (I used no added sodium vegetarian Rapunzel cubes)
  • Salt and pepper

Rinse and sort the beans, removing stones and bad beans.  Soak the beans for at least 10 hours.  I would seriously recommend soaking overnight.  Seriously.  I started mine at 7 AM and that still wasn’t long enough when I started cooking at 5:30.  The longer soak is totally worth it.  I soak mine with a bay leaf, but I don’t think it helps it soak any faster.  It might help the flavor later, though.

Rinse the very long soaked beans well and put then in a large soup pot with the water.  Add the leeks, one stalk’s worth of celery, the arugula, parsley, garlic, bouillon, and several generous splashes of olive oil.  Also, add a few sprinklings of sea salt.  Some people say this hinders your beans cooking tenderizing.  Everything seems to hinder my beans, so I added my salt here.  I’ve also read that sea salt can actually help tenderize the beans, but who knows if that’s true.  If you fear for your beans softening ability, add the salt at the end.  Cover and simmer.

You could add all the celery and the carrot at this point, but I like some crunch in my soups, so I tend to add at least some of the vegetables towards the end.  If you like super-cooked veggies, toss ’em all in.  Feel free to use more of any vegetable you like best.  And leave out the extra celery if someone objects strongly.  But leave in the celery in the beginning; it cooks so long you won’t notice it’s there.

Still simmer.  You’re going to be simmering for a long time, though not nearly as long as I simmered, since you were much cleverer than I was and soaked your beans for a long, long time.  The recipe I based mine off of said to cook for an hour, sit for 10 minutes off the heat, season with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme (at $6 a packet of wilted herbs, I don’t think so–parsley I made and exception for since I used half of it in falafel), and reheat for five minutes.  I believe we at around 8:30 (so give about 3 hours simmering time).  The beans weren’t quite done then, but they were soft enough to enjoy.  They were better for lunch the next day, but soup often is.

Stir in you reserved carrots and celery just before serving.

So what did we learn?  Soak the beans.  Soak the beans.  Soak the beans.  You don’t need bacon fat to make tasty beans.  Just soaking.  And time.  Lots of time.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    February 23, 2010 12:01 pm

    Grandma Beck used to add 1/4 tsp baking soda to Navy Pea Beans to help with the softening.

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