Like many others, I've been trying to incorporate more beans into my family's meals. They have been eaten by traditional people for thousands of years, which is enough convincing for me that they're a wise choice. But if you need more facts to convince you, they are also dirt-cheap, full of fiber, iron-rich, and make a complete protein when paired with whole grains (or some vegetables, I think). Beans are a stable of many vegetarian and vegan diets, and while I personally don't adhere to either of those diets, this method is universally applicable. Personally, I hope that as I learn to incorporate beans into my meals more regularly, I'll be able to use the savings to buy better (i.e.: grassfed) meat for other meals.
In spite of all their assets, beans can be kind of intimidating to cook, if you're starting with dried beans. Add to that the fact that at 9000 ft, everything takes waaay longer to boil (because of our low atmospheric pressure, water boils at 195 F, instead of 210), and you can see why I've reverted to using canned beans more often than I'd like to admit (also, it's a running joke in our house that my beans are always still a little crunchy when served. Not a reputation I'd like to maintain).
A few strikes against canned beans:
- They cost about twice as much.
- They are pressure cooked and who knows how or if they are soaked before cooking? Many nutritional gurus question the wisdom of cooking foods at high pressures, because we're not sure what it does to them, while many of the same gurus stress the importance of proper soaking before cooking.
- They are canned. You have a can to deal with (yeah, not that big of a deal if you recycle), and most cans are lined with BPA.
- They take up more space to store (I'm thinking large quantities here).
Anyway, I've been wanting to switch out some dried beans for canned. It's kind of a pain to have to remember to soak and cook (forever!) to have beans ready for a meal, so I decided to make a big batch to freeze. Since I have to boil the little suckers for just short of an eternity, I decided to use the crockpot rather than the stovetop for the job.
*Side note: I've been doing some looking at the energy usage of crockpots, compared to other forms of cooking. For this particular application, the crockpot was the clear winner. But electricity is incredibly inefficient to produce from fossil fuels, so I'll be doing some more looking into how gas stoves and ovens compare.
Anyway! The beans practically prepared themselves. I actually used 2 crockpots (for massive freezable quantities of finished product). Since the crockpots are ceramic and not metal (or anything reactive), I felt comfortable soaking the beans in them ahead of time too. Extra easy!
Fill crockpot about 1/3 to 1/2 full with beans. Fill the rest of the way with water. Leave it for 24 hours or so. (Depending on your type of bean, I've heard varying things about adding acid/not adding acid. I didn't this time with Great Northern Beans)
Drain water out (I rinsed the beans off too), and replace with fresh water.
Cook on low until beans are desired softness.
Drain and use or freeze.
Notes to make your experience even better than mine:
- Make sure you only fill the crockpot 1/3 to 1/2 full. I kind of forgot about this at first, and the beans expanded so much that they were threatening to escape from the crockpot. This is the real reason I used two crockpots. :)
- Expect the house to smell strongly while the beans cook. I cooked mine overnight, and in the middle of the night, I woke up, wondering what that super-strong smell was! I actually checked both toddler's bottoms, as well as the dog, before stumbling into the kitchen and seeing the beans bubbling away.
- Freeze in meal-size portions. I put mine in ziplocks and froze them flat to stack nicely in the freezer. This has worked really well with other things, which I whack on the counter to break off chunks to use. But the beans did not break up into nice usable chunks when I whacked them on the counter. I'm still experimenting with how to get usable portions out without thawing the whole bag. Any ideas?
Well, once I work out my huge-frozen-brick-of-beans snafu, I will enjoy having cooked beans quickly when I need them! Cheap and easy!