Every year, I make at least one food-related New Year's resolution. This year it is to cook beans from scratch more often than using them from a can.
"Good luck," you may say, thinking of the time involved. "Get real," is my reply.
Cooking your own beans has multiple benefits. Let me count the ways, health first:
No sodium. You add just the amount you wish after the beans are cooked.
No BPA. At this time, beans sold in BPA-free containers are still rare.
No preservatives. Sulfites are a common additive to maintain the color in canned beans.
Save money and space. A one-pound bag of dried beans makes as many servings as you get in about 4 15-ounce cans. Or buy a few ounces of dried beans in bulk. They cost even less and make just enough for one or two people.
Finally, let's address the big issue – time. My routine is to soak a cup of beans overnight or toss them in a bowl at breakfast time and add water. Unless beans are old, 4 to 6 hours is usually enough soaking. Most beans then cook in 1 hour, time during which you can be doing other things, whether food related or outside the kitchen.
Two reasons my resolution will work: first, a small amount of dried beans, one-half to one cup, cooks faster than a big pot and makes the right amount for a small household. What is leftover after one meal keeps in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.
And pre-cooked beans can be used in many ways, from making white bean or black bean hummus, to being tossed into a salad or added to a bowl of soup.
Second: you must try this Tuscan bean soup to see for yourself the flavor and texture of home-cooked beans is so superior, it is fully worth the effort.
The American Institute for Cancer Research
Tuscan White Bean Soup
•1 cup dried navy beans
•Cold water, enough to cover beans
•1 leek, white part only, cut into 1-inch pieces
•3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
•1/2 cup chopped carrot, in 3/4-inch pieces
•1/2 cup chopped celery, in 3/4-inch pieces
•1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, loosely packed
•1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
•4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or
•2 cups water
•1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
•Salt and freshly ground pepper
•Fried leek, optional, for garnish
Place beans in a deep pot and cover with cold water to 1-inch above the beans. Bring water to boil and simmer, uncovered, for 1 minute. Off heat, cover and let beans sit for one hour. Drain beans.
In same pot, cover beans with cold water to 2-inches above beans. Over medium-high heat, bring just to gentle boil. Cover pot partway so it does not boil over, and simmer beans until soft and creamy, 45-60 minutes. Set beans aside in cooking liquid until ready to use. Or, if not using within 4 hours, drain cooled beans and refrigerate, tightly covered, up to 4 days.
In food a processor, pulse leek, onion, carrot, celery and parsley until finely chopped and moist.
In medium Dutch oven or small soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped vegetables and cook, stirring, until they soften,
5 minutes. Cover tightly, reduce heat and gently cook vegetables until they let their juices, 10 minutes. Increase heat and cook vegetables until golden, 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add broth, 2 cups water and rosemary. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are very soft, about 20 minutes. Off heat, use immersion blender to whirl soup until partly pureed, with some vegetables bits remaining.
Add 2 cups drained cooked beans to soup. Return pot to heat and cook until beans are heated through. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide soup among 6 deep soup bowls. If desired garnish with fried leek. Or pass grated Parmesan cheese on the side.
Nutrition Information Per Serving: 172
calories, 3 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat),
27 g carbohydrate, 11 g protein, 10 g dietary fiber, 393 mg sodium.