Beans & Legumes, Dried

Velvety smooth, well-cooked beans are both delicious and digestible. Hard beans are neither. Here are my secrets—plus a recipe—for cooking up a satisfying pot of soft beans. With these basics there’s bowls of pleasure ahead.

If beans are relatively new to your diet or if you have trouble digesting them, start by eating small amounts frequently; this allows your digestive system time to adjust to them.

Bean Cooking Secrets

1. Soak beans in water until fully hydrated. Soaking time varies, depending upon the bean variety and freshness, from 2 to 24 hours. When fully hydrated, rinse, add water to cover and cook.

2. Cook at a slow simmer. Boiling toughens beans, so simmer them slowly. (Or, conversely, cook in a pressure cooker, as the addition of pressure makes them velvety soft; pressure cooking is especially useful at high elevations.) At the beginning of cooking, skim off and discard any foam that rises to the top of the pot.

3. Add seasonings to aid digestibility. Cook beans until softened and then add 1 teaspoon salt per cup of dry beans. The herbs asafetida, cumin, epazote, fennel, ginger, and winter savory enhance bean digestion. I also add a 2-inch strip of the seaweed kombu per cup of dry beans; a natural source of glutamic acid, kombu tenderizes, enhances flavor and adds invaluable vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals.

4. When cooked, discard the soaking water and quickly rinse to remove hard-to-digest galactans.

5. Add fat to reduce flatulence. There’s something about the combination of fat and beans that helps quell wind. That’s why classic bean recipes such as refried beans, falafel, pork and beans, marinated beans, and hummus contain added fat.

6. If using an acid ingredient (like citrus, vinegar, tomatoes, or wine) add it to fully cooked beans. This is because if an acidic food were added to beans that are still hard, they would never soften.

7. Try taking bean-digestive enzymes. Various dietary supplements contain alpha-galactosidase enzymes that reduce intestinal gas by helping digest the otherwise hard-to-digest sugars in beans. These supplements are available in supermarkets in both tablet and liquid form.

Bean Recipe

Makes 2 to 3 cups cooked beans.

1 cup of beans, picked over and rinsed
1 2-inch strip kombu (optional)
1 teaspoon unrefined salt

Place the beans in a bowl. Add water to cover by a few inches and soak for 2 to 24 hours, until fully hydrated. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Place the beans in a large saucepan, add fresh water to cover and the kombu, if using. Place over high heat and bring to a simmer. Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are softened (cooking time varies greatly among different varieties), adding salt during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Drain and discard the cooking water and quickly rinse.

Season and serve as a side dish or use beans in a recipe of choice.

May you be well nourished,

Rebecca Wood

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