Most of us know that beans are good for us—high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Canned beans are nice in a pinch, but did you know that dried beans are more cost-effective, nutritious, and delicious? Experimental Wifery explains why old-fashioned dried beans are so great, how to prepare them, and even throws in a simple, chickpea pasta dish to try. So why are dried beans so great?
- Dried beans are inexpensive. Most varieties of dried beans cost barely more than $1 for a pound—dehydrated. Once they are cooked, they cost about 50% less per pound than their canned counterparts.
- Dried beans are more nutritious. Canning destroys some of the beans’ nutritional value. Dried chickpeas, for example, have 15% more protein, 30% more iron, and 80% more vitamin B6.
- Dried beans protect your family from unnecessary chemicals. The linings of most canned foods contain a chemical called Bisphenol-A or BPA that manufacturers use to keep food fresh longer. BPA can act as an artificial estrogen and has been linked to male infertility, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Dried beans stay BPA-free.
- Dried beans just taste better. Canned beans are usually too salty and have an unpleasant, mushy texture. When cooked, dried beans have a fresh, nutty taste and a pleasant bite.
So how do you cook with dried beans?
- Pick your peas. Most dried beans have been mechanically sorted and cleaned, but you still need to check for pebbles or other debris—just in case. Try pouring the beans, a few at the time, into a fine-holed sieve or colander. When you’ve removed anything undesirable, wash the beans thoroughly and add them to a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Don’t worry. I’ve found 1 pebble in six months of cooking with dried beans.
- Soak ‘em. Despite popular opinion, beans don’t require elaborate, overnight soaking. In fact, some beans take on the same mushy texture as canned if soaked for too long. Try this instead: add your dried beans to a pot and cover them with 2 to 3 inches of water. Bring the pot to a boil. Let the water boil for about two minutes. Cover the pot and let the beans soak for about 2 hours in the hot water. Some heartier beans, like chickpeas, need a little extra help to break down the tough outer shell. Try adding 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the water.
- Use the beans in your favorite recipe. After about 2 hours, most beans will be ready to cook. That means they are soft, but not yet tender enough to eat. Beans should finish softening as the recipe cooks. If you’re planning to use plain beans in a salad or salsa, cover them with about 2 inches of water and boil them until they’re done, checking about every 15 minutes.
- Save them for later. If you don’t get a lot of time at home during the week, consider spending a few hours a month soaking and freezing beans. Soaked and frozen beans have all the nutritional and financial benefits of dried beans with the convenience of canned.
Pasta e Ceci
This Italian classic is one of the best one-dish bean meals I know. My recipe makes about four servings. Be careful—pasta e ceci is so good, your family may want more than one serving a piece!
- 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 stick of celery, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary
- 1 pound dried chickpeas, soaked with baking soda until tender
- 5 cups of chicken broth
- 3 1/2 ounces of small, cut pasta such as shells or farfalle
- Olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Basil to garnish
- Heat enough olive oil to barely coat the bottom of the pan over low heat.
- Add the onion, celery, garlic, and rosemary. Cover the pan and let the vegetables cook about 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are soft.
- Add the chickpeas and broth. Cook until the beans are soft, about 45 minutes.
- Remove about 1/2 of the chickpeas and set them aside.
- Using either an immersion blender or a food processor, puree the vegetables and remaining chickpeas.
- Add the reserved chickpeas and the pasta to the pot. Gently simmer the mixture until the pasta is cooked. (The pasta will take longer to cook in the puree than it would in water.) Keep an eye on the pot and add more broth or water if it seems too thick to cook the pasta or it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Add salt to taste.
- Pour the soup into bowls. Drizzle with more olive oil and garnish with basil.