Fans of my Food Network show “Ten Dollar Dinners” know how I feel about beans: They’re healthy, versatile, downright cheap, and therefore, a must-have pantry item. Personally, I like to buy dried beans and cook/freeze them for easy use.
A one-pound bag of dried beans costs about $1 and cooks up four to five cans’ worth of
beans. Even if you buy your canned beans for a buck a pop, you get three extra cans of beans for free if you go for dried beans instead of precooked ones. And cooking dried beans couldn’t be simpler!
Since the “how do I cook dried beans” question is definitely one of the most frequently asked among fans, I wanted to share the bean secrets right here on my blog.
And, do yourself a favor – always keep beans handy…even if you opt for the canned variety, which are still an economical convenience food item though pricier than dried beans. Not only do beans add a nice hit of protein and fiber to round out main dishes or to star in a meatless meal, but they’re also a great go-to ingredient for soups, chili, dips, salads, etc. I like to keep black beans, lentils and at least one white bean variety on hand at all times. Now that I mention lentils, just a note: Lentils do not need to soak, so they can be a great substitute for the dried beans if you’re in a rush.
How to Cook Dried Beans…
Soak the beans overnight.
1- Simmer the beans in a large pot of water until they’re just tender (1 hour on average, though if they have been sitting on a shelf for a long time it could take up to 2 hours). Don’t boil the beans or use salt (both can cause the skins to slip off) and take care not to overcook them.
2- When the beans are cooled, divide them into four quart-sized resealable freezer bags.
About 1.5 cups of beans per bag is good—that’s about how much is in a can. Freeze the
cooked beans (don’t forget to label the bags so you know what kind of beans are in
- The next time you need beans, just pull a bag out of the freezer. Thaw first if using in a salad or for a sauté; if they’re going into a soup or stew, it’s fine to add them frozen.
How to Use Beans…
- Use beans to stretch a protein. Beans are a great way to bulk up an uneaten piece of
chicken or sausage from the night before. Add some rice or bulgur for a lighter dish.
- Serve beans as a side dish. Beans are filling and nutritious and are a great way to get away with serving smaller pieces of expensive protein such as salmon, shrimp, or steak.
- Make beans an appetizer. Serve on toasted baguette slices for crostini or with crudités for a homemade take on hummus. This is a great trick for entertaining since you offer guests a hearty appetizer with protein to fill them up!
- Incorporate “bean” night once a week. Make beans (or any other frugal protein – whole-grain pasta, eggs, lentils, etc.) the star of your dinner for a meatless meal that will fill you up but will also keep costs down.
Here are some of my favorite bean recipes from the show.
- Perfect Black Beans
- Sautéed Cannellini Beans
- Smoky Baked Beans
- Smashed Black Beans
- Sautéed White Beans
- Game Day Chili
- And of course, the famous Black Bean Brownies - If you haven’t tried them yet, rest assured that the beans add a velvety texture and incredible moistness to the brownies.
And, there are lots of great recipes featuring beans from my cookbook, including:
- Black Bean Nacho Burgers
(A vegetarian delight fit for a meat lover, featured in Shape magazine)
- White Bean Tapenade Crostini
- California-Style Bruschetta
- Corn and Black Bean Pico
- White Bean, Leek and Bacon Soup
- Roasted Garlic and White Bean Chili
- Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup
- Quick Black Bean Chili
- Toasted Sesame and Two-Bean Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
- Garlicky Shrimp and White Bean Gratin
- And even in smoothies like my Black Bean, Chocolate, and Banana Smoothies