Beans Glorious Beans.

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It’s a frosty morning, and a cold day puts me in the mind for hot food.  As I’ve been holding off creating this blog for so long I’ve got lots of basics I want to impart, and I’m hogging the only (barely!) working computer in the house to get this down.  I thought I’d start with some pictures  of my little flock, to share my excitement about finally having laying hens (something I’ve wanted for years) and also to make the tenuous: cold hens – frosty day – warm food – hearty beans link.

Beans are  huge part of our diet, they are cheap, nutritious, come in a huge variety and are very versatile.  They have become the main card to play when asked if my children are getting enough protein, (‘Yes they are, protein is in virtually everything, but if you must ask…’) and probably feature in the majority of our weekly meals.

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On a cold and frosty day like today, not much could be more warming and filling than a chunky bean soup or a chickpea stew flavoured with smokey paprika and topped with dumplings.

The main reason I switched to soaking and cooking dried beans and pulses was out of frugality:

Typically a 500g packet of organic beans costs about £1.75.  The cooked weight of that packet of beans (multiply by 2.5) is 1.25kg, which equates to around five 400g cans of beans, (drained weight 250g)… So, and bear with me, my maths is pretty solid but slow, it’s taken me a long time to get this far… that works out about 35p per ‘can’ of organic beans, as opposed to £1 per can which is the normal supermarket retail price.  That, and of course, soaking and cooking your own beans gives much better flavour and texture, and is actually dead easy.  Now obviously, if you buy your beans in bulk, or wholesale or simply from a good ethnic supermarket, this price drops considerably.

Now for the dead easy bit:

My secret is a slow cooker, it’s not necessary but it makes bean preparation effortless and often yields better results.

My trusty slow cooker, not very pretty, and very well loved, (except when I put the stoneware in the oven, lid and all, believing the handle to be made out of some sort of heat proof material... it wasn't).
My trusty slow cooker, not very pretty, and very well loved, (except when I put the stoneware in the oven, lid and all, believing the handle to be made out of some sort of heat proof material… it wasn’t).

I also advocate soaking and cooking beans in large batches, and freezing in ‘can’ sized portions, ready to use as easily as frozen peas in soups and stews etc.

Beans need soaking overnight, I tend to soak 500g at a time, in a large bowl or pan, filled with cold water to 2-3 inches above the level of the beans.  I leave the beans in my oven overnight, it’s an easy way to prevent any cats taking a drink from the soaking water, but you could easily pop a saucepan lid on or cover in a clean tea-towel.

In the morning, drain the beans and rinse in a colander, and put them in your slow cooker, again with fresh cold water 2-3 inches above the level of the beans .  Put the slow cooker on low and ignore it all day, go to work, go to the park, have a picnic, do some housework if you must, maybe pop to the seaside for the day… and after about 8 hours, (although I’ve never timed it, I’m sure some beans have been cooking for well over 10 hours before with no harm done) you have a mountain of cooked beans.  Drain them and use some of them straight away in whatever recipe you are preparing that evening, and then divide the rest into takeaway tuppaware and pop in the freezer for another meal.

This whole process can be accelerated, but it will require a little more attention.

Quick soaking can be achieved by putting the dry beans in a pan of cold water, bringing quickly to the boil and simmering for 10 minutes before taking off the heat and leaving to hot soak with a lid on for an hour.  Drain these beans as before and put in fresh water in a pan and simmer for up to 2 hours (depending on the type of bean).  This can also be done in the slow cooker on high for around 4-5 hours, but in my experience, the speed, the higher heat and the agitation of the boiling water, often makes more mushy beans than the slow method.  Also, the slower, gentler method, works for most varieties of dried bean and pulses with little or no refining, so less timings to remember… which is always good.

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I suppose now I should start to work on writing up some of my bean dishes, the old staple soups, stews and casseroles, but also easy dips, salads and side dishes.  Most of my ‘recipes’ need quantifying and refining, so in the meantime, start slinging some beans into everything you cook.  You’ll feel better for it.

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