Thursday, January 28, 2010

Kicking The Can

Lately I've become a crazy person about the things I will eat. It's not that I don't like most foods (I do), it's just that gradually I've pulled more and more processed food out of my diet. This time four years ago I was guzzling diet coke by the gallon (even for breakfast eeek)! Now the thought of buying a soda doesn't even cross my mind. 

In fact, I've gotten so particular about avoiding canned and pre-made foods that I've even taken to making my own chicken broth as often as my schedule will allow. When it's tomato season I make as much tomato sauce as my little freezer will hold. I've been making almond butter, ricotta cheese, and ice cream but, somehow, canned beans just slipped through the cracks. 

I think it's because I was secretly intimidated by them. All that forethought and preparation for a food that is supposed to make my life easy. A food that I should always have on hand for a quick healthy meal. Dried beans aren't waiting patiently in your cabinet ready to rinse and eat. No, they are fussy little creatures insisting on hours of time soaking and cooking before getting to the point in which you'd actually want to eat one. 

Never the less, about a year ago I tried to cook my own dried Borlotti beans. A decision based partly on a lack of canned Borlotti beans and partly because I was on an "eat, whole, completely unprocessed foods rampage". It was quite a humbling experience. The skin wrinkled and peeled, they tasted starchy and eventually fell apart leaving me wondering how I could possibly have screwed them up. I tried again with chickpeas with no better results. 

I had just about had it with dried beans and I waited a whole year before I tried again. I convinced myself the canned ones were fine and just bought organic low sodium beans whenever I could. Then one day I read an article about Bisphenol-A (BPA) in the lining of canned goods. I researched it a little bit more and that was it. I was done with canned beans. Unfortunately I can't avoid canned tomatoes in the winter when I make chili or tomato sauce, but beans I can surely avoid.

This time I was determined to make it work. I bought a large bag of organic chickpeas and followed the instructions for bean to water ratio. I didn't add salt because I heard it makes them tough and increases cooking time. The package said to soak for 8 hours but I went for overnight. The next morning my darling little chickpeas had soaked up the majority of the water and looked plump. They were about the size of the chickpeas in cans. That alone was an improvement on last years attempt.
I eagerly drained the water, rinsed them off and placed them in a pot of water to cook. An hour later I tasted one. To my surprise they were tender, full of flavor, not the least bit starchy and not at all rubbery like their canned counterparts.

I'm sold. No more canned beans for me. As for their extended cooking time and inconvenience? Well, I already jar and freeze everything so why should beans be any different? The answer is, they're not. This morning I made 40oz of red kidney beans, measured them out into ball jars and froze them. Convenience is all about preparation. 

I also jarred and froze the carrots an the chicken from the chicken soup/broth that I made last night.

How to Cook Dried Beans
 Pick any stones out of the beans. 
Measure the desired amount of beans and water on a 1:4 ratio (ex: 1 cup of dried beans to 4 cups of water)
Let soak 12-18 hours (I lean more towards 18)
Rinse beans.
Add beans to a large pot and fill with enough water to cover by an inch or two.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Let water boil for a minute or two and turn down to a simmer. Leave the cover on but slightly askew so that the water doesn't boil over.
Cooking time will vary depending on the bean (chickpeas take about an hour, red kidney beans about an hour and a half). The best way to tell is to just taste one. Make sure beans are completely covered for the duration of their cooking time. If the water level gets to low, just add more water.

 Maybe now I will get up enough courage to properly can things so that my freezers don't look like this...

My extra freezer stuffed with jars so that I don't take over the main freezer.

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