On Beans

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Yes, you can use canned beans in your veggie burgers. But if there’s one thing I knew before I stared this project and which I am even more convinced of now that I’m in the thick of it, it’s that canned beans just don’t taste as good. They taste a little bit like aluminum, and though they’re “tender,” you can’t reasonably call them “supple.” Freshly cooked beans? Oh, just think about how much more control you have. None of that slimy goop, as much or little salt as you’d like, and then cooked to your most perfect tender ideal. And that clean, earthy, beany flavor. It’s also cheaper. At least give it a try. Here’s how.

First you must soak them. There are a couple options:

Overnight soak: Pick over the beans for rocks and other miscellaneous stuff, and rinse them thoroughly. Place the beans in a bowl and cover by three times their volume (they’ll expand almost that much), and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, drain off the water and rinse the beans.

Quick(er) soak: Place the picked-through, rinsed beans in the cooking pot with water three to four times their volume. Bring the water to boil and boil for a couple minutes. Off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for at least an hour (you can let them soak like this for as long as you’d like). When the soak is done, drain the water, rinse the beans, and continue with cooking as below.

Quick(est) soak (don’t try this yet): I recall from my restaurant days another soaking method, which I can’t corroborate via Google, where you take the picked-through, rinsed beans, cover them with water, bring the water to a boil, immediately drain it off, cover with water again, bring it to a boil, drain it off, repeat this once more, and then proceed with the cooking method. I haven’t had a chance to test this one, but I will report back shortly to let you know if I was imagining things or not. Sorry. This doesn’t improve on the “Quick(er) soak method at all. Don’t do it.

And to cook:

Put the soaked beans in a pot, covered by three or four times their volume. Bring to a boil. Don’t add any salt to the water (though not everyone agrees on this—some people contend that if you add salt in the beginning the beans will not tenderize). Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, covering partially, and cook until appealingly succulent. The best way to know when the beans are done—and this is universally true for food—is to taste one and decide for your self. Cooking times vary greatly. Small beans can take as little as 30 or 40 minutes; larger ones can take up to a few hours.

In terms of dried vs. cooked quantities, the ratio is something like 1 : 2.25—meaning for 1 cup of dried beans, you get 2-1/4 cups cooked beans. Preparing for recipes thus requires some math. In the lucky event that you are left with extra beans when you’re getting ready to make veggie burgers, just dump them, warm, into a bowl, drizzle with some olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, a dusting of fancy salt, and a few grinds of pepper. This is the cook’s treat, which means that you can use more oil than what seems right.

If you do end up using canned beans—and that is fine—by all means, rinse them. And then rinse them three more times.

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