I love beans and other legumes; in fact, I had a recent post about lentils, but I promise this post is different. A Facebook friend was trying to make a split pea soup over the weekend. The operative word is “trying.” Those split peas never softened and she wound up throwing the whole pot of peas and other veggies out.
My friend’s fiasco led me to do some investigative work. Beans can be stored for up to one year if stored properly. That means using an airtight container (love those Mason jars!) and keeping them in a cool dark place. Unfortunately there is no way to know how long beans/peas/lentils have been on the store shelves.That we find out when we cook them 😦
Beans, but not peas and lentils, need to be soaked prior to cooking. There are two methods for doing this: overnight and quick soak. Both methods are usually shown in the directions on the bean package (or see the link below). I prefer the overnight soak, but that’s just personal preference. (And if you’re using a pressure cooker, there’s no need to soak at all, even though I still do.) Just be sure to rinse your beans well and check for any little rocks that might have found their way into the package; these are natural foods, after all. Use clean water and soak by whichever method you choose. Then, pour off the soaking water and rinse those beans really well again. This will eliminate a great deal of the gas producing enzymes and make them easier to digest. Put the beans (or unsoaked peas/lentils) in a pot and cover to about an inch above the beans with cold water. Different beans require different cooking times so follow your package instructions. If you need to add water while cooking, use hot water.
About those hard beans….if your beans aren’t old, you may have hard water. I do. Adding a bit of baking soda (no more than 1/4 teaspoon) to your cooking water will help with that. Additionally, do not cook your beans with acid-producing foods, like tomatoes, or with salt. Both will make for hard skins on your beans. Add the acid-producing foods toward the end of the cooking time. If absolutely must have salt, sprinkle it on your beans at the table. You’ll avoid the hard skins and use far less salt than you would otherwise.
Here’s a handy resource for using and storing dried legumes: http://www.usdrybeans.com/recipes/recipe-facts/
Now, go cook up a nice warming pot of beans! (I love to combine a cup or so of cooked beans with about a cup of frozen spinach or collards and a few tablespoons of salsa. Heat it all up together and it’s a quick, delicious meal!)