Beans are amazing. Also known as legumes or pulses, beans are super nutritious, packed with vegan protein and fiber, delicious, and cheap. But there are a few things everyone who cooks beans should know before they start.
1. Soak dry beans in water the night before. (Some of you are probably like, “um, obvies!” but I’m gonna go through all the basics for the sake of any newbies reading this). Discard the soaking water (you can feed your plants with it or cook rice with it, just don’t cook beans in their soaking water – it is full of an enzyme that prevents them from softening). There is a short soak method for dry beans; it involves bringing beans in water to a boil and then removing from the heat and soaking for two hours. I find soaking beans in cool water overnight (minimum of 8 hours but I go 24 or even 48 hours) is a better and more effective method. If you live in a very warm climate, you might want to soak your beans in the fridge, to prevent spontaneous fermentation.
2. Cook beans in plenty of water. Beans will expand a lot after soaking, so just make sure they are covered and then some when you start cooking.
3. While the beans are cooking, never add the following: salt, vinegars, tomatoes, sugar, acids. The most common mistake is salting a pot of cooking beans. They will take many more hours to soften. If you want to make beans in a tomato broth, add the tomatoes after the beans are fully softened. Or make a tomato broth in tandem and then add the cooked beans to it.
4. Use kombu – a thick seaweed – to make beans easily digestible. I discovered this years ago and I have used it ever since. Kombu contains enzymes that help with the digestion of legumes, and glutamates which are a natural source of umami flavor (you’ve heard of monosodium glutamate – kombu is a natural source of the glutamate minus the monosodium. It is very tasty and has none of the negative aspects of MSG). The way to do this is soak a strip of kombu in a pot of water for a few hours, and then use this pot with the water and kombu to cook the beans. Kombu will expand and will have a rubbery texture. If left longer it will start dissolving into the broth. It is perfectly safe to eat it.
5. Use other carminative herbs and spices, such as cumin seed, fennel seed, caraway seed, cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, ginger, and coriander seed. After the beans are fully cooked, you can add salt, spices, and any other ingredients you may choose (tomato sauce, for example).