Beans, .. Beans, .. Beans, .. Beans…

… this time, Black and Pinto …
(c) 2014, Davd

Home made pea soup can be a welcome part of your regular diet; but if that’s the only pea-family protein food you cook, it’s likely to get monotonous, eating pea soup at noon every day. i like to alternate my leguminous protein meals among peas, chickpeas, lentils, and especially, at least two kinds of beans. The beans are the ones i like best: Black beans, pintos*, and chili-sin-carne [meatless chili] to be exact. In this “post”, i’ll describe cooking black and pinto beans; chili-sin-carne is a little more elaborate and merits a “post” of its own*.

Pea soup cooks almost quickly to a thick purée; black and pinto beans cook more slowly to a tender but still distinct consistency in which you can see, and feel [in your mouth] the individual beans. Each of the three legumes has a distinctive flavour, as different from the others, say, as beef is from pork is from chicken. They should each have a distinctive seasoning as well. Black and pinto beans can be soaked and cooked in the same basic way—but i advise you not to try switching the seasonings from one to the other, any more than you’d season beef with sage.

Beans follow the same basic cooking pattern as peas and lentils; but their soaking times are longer. They benefit from savory, onion, and celery or liveche, but the other seasonings are different—and quite different for black vs. pinto beans.

The basic pattern, to repeat, is: [1] Soak with savory, but at least overnight this time;
[2] add a little soda for quicker cooking,
[3] season with herbs (no smoked fat),
[4] bring to boiling [stirring down foam is more a problem with black beans than pintos] and
[5] simmer until the texture is “done”, which with these beans will require one to three hours.

As with pea soup, then, measure a volume of beans one-eighth or less as large as the volume of the pot you’ll use, into that pot or some container that can take some heat. Then measure 3-4 times that volume of water (or vegetable stock) into another pot, add some savory if you have savory, and bring it to the boil. If you have added savory, lower the heat to a gentle bubbling, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the electricity if you used an electric stove, and pour the boiling water onto the beans. (You can also put the peas in a bowl or other holding container, heat the water in the pot you’ll use to cook the soup, and pour in the beans when it’s ready.)

Next, let the dry beans soak up water for 8-12 hours. (They shouldn’t need longer, but they can soak for a full 24-hour day without harm.) When they’re ready, they will have visibly swelled and there will be much less water on top of them.

Since acid legumes take much longer to cook, add some baking soda to the beans when you put them in the pot to cook (or if they soaked in that same pot, when they’re about to go on the heat.) Stir the soda in well, and you might see some bubbles—perhaps less likely than with peas or lentils.

While heating the beans in their soaking stock, fry some onion in vegetable oil (or collect some chive if you’ve chive growing in your garden.) If you have celery leaves and trimmings, or liveche, add that. Add chives whenever you like—it can be good to add some when the beans are coming to the boil and some more when cooking is done. Fried onions should be added as soon as they are lightly browned.

To black beans, add also one or two bay leaves. Bay leaf, savory, celery-liveche, and onion [or chive] are my favourite seasoning for black beans, developed from the recommendation of a chef who trained at a fairly famous Toronto restaurant.

To pintos, add chili powder and oregano—plus celery-liveche and onion, and the savory in the soaking water.. My cooking spoons are more nearly two than three teaspoonfuls in size, and i add one rounded spoonful of chili powder to 2/3 litre of dry beans [soaked up overnight to well over a litre]. However, chili powder varies in “heat” and you may have to do a bit of trial and error to find how much of the kind you have fits with your personal tastes. (As usual, err on the “light” side to start—put in less chili powder rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves.) I use home grown “Greek” oregano, which is stored as loosely crumbled rather than a fine powder, and add a bit more in loose volume, than of chili powder.

As the beans come to a boil, black beans tend to foam a good deal “worse” than pintos. Stirring the pot will help to work down the foam. This is something to watch and be ready for, when cooking any legumes from scratch.

For black beans, choose a pot that the soup fills about half way, two-thirds at the most, so there is some room for the foam as they approach boiling. When they start to boil, and you’ve reduced the heat to what keeps them simmering (boiling slowly and gently), the foam should disappear or reduce to a very thin layer at the top of the soup. Pintos can be cooked in a relatively smaller pot; but if in doubt, use the same size as for black beans and pea soup.

If you add salt to the pot before tasting, err on the “light” side, as with chili powder—put in less salt rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves into the soup.

As an estimate, these beans will take one to three hours to cook to a pleasant softness. As the beans begin to soften, take out a half spoonful, set it on the stove top to cool, and then taste. (I keep a jar lid or a tiny saucer near the back of the stove top as a “spoon rest”.) If it seems to you there should be more chili, celery-liveche, chive, or oregano, add more now; but if in doubt, don’t. Some seasonings seem to gain strength with time.

Beans, like pea soup, are economical protein balancers for bread or boiled grain, hearty enough to satisfy, warming and comforting in cold weather. They should be regulars in a frugal and especially in a semi-vegetarian diet. Black and pinto beans can even be mixed with plain boiled rice or barley, and will give the grain enough flavour to make a decent tasting dish. (I don’t recommend mixing pea soup or white beans with plain boiled grain, though.)

I tend to enjoy both black and pinto beans more, eaten cold, than i do pea soup.


* Romano beans are fairly similar to pintos. Until recently, pintos were the least expensive of the retail beans in this area, and i cooked them quite often because they taste so good with chili and oregano. Then Wal-Mart raised their price by well over 50%, and i haven’t cooked them as often; i like black beans at least as well and they now cost slightly less in this area, where before they cost 50% more. If pintos are the low-cost beans where you are, i do recommend them.

I don’t cook white beans often; because as i’ve written a few times before, i prefer robust flavours. If they’re inexpensive where you are, or you especially like them, i recommend some kind of meat to flavour them: Bacon, ham or a light-tasting sausage like “hot dogs”. (If you abstain from red meat or from pork, you can get “chicken wieners/frankfurters” to flavour your white beans…or you can use those smoked soybeans.) Frying the onions in bacon fat might be enough; and as with all dry legumes, i recommend savory in the soaking broth and celery or liveche.

There is also the molasses [and i don’t know what else] technique which has made Boston famous: White beans baked with molasses and [??] eaten Saturday night and Sunday morning … and then they went to church [ahem].


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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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