As a child, I recall eating more than my fair share of beans. My family was poor and beans were cheap. Mom always had a huge kettle of beans on the burner and corn bread in the oven. It kept our bellies full. Now, years later, I find that I have followed in her footsteps. Although I do not serve beans for every meal, I enjoy them frequently. Beans are not only economical, but healthy, tasty, and versatile as well.
Pinto beans can be found in nearly any grocery store. They come in a variety of name brands, package sizes, and prices. Vegetarians beware, some even have ham flavoring added. Pinto beans are a good source of protein and excellent in fiber. They are low in calories, and fat-free (except what you add).
If you have never had the experience of cooking a pot of beans, you might wonder how those hard, gray, pebble-like, objects become tasty, and tender, in a thick brown soup, just waiting to absorb that steaming hot chunk of homemade cornbread. It is actually a simple process. You must sort and wash the beans, and then cook them for several hours in a large pot of water.
Although beans are nicely packaged in a sealed bag, they are dirty little things, as is anything grown in a field. Sometimes the bags contain small pebbles and clumps of dirt, so it is very important to thoroughly sort the beans by grabbing a small handful at a time and sifting them from one hand to the other while watching for something you would not want to eat. I am convinced that this step is often over-looked. Many times I have bitten down on a small rock while eating beans someone else prepared.
Next, Beans must be washed and rinsed under running water. You would not believe how dirty beans actually are until you see their bath water. I usually use a large bowl to wash them in room temperature water, agitating by hand, draining, and refilling several times, before a final rinse in a colander.
Now that the beans are clean, you can put them in a large pot and cover with cold water. Just remember, like pasta, beans swell as they cook. So keep that in mind when choosing what size pot to use. Then, basically, all you do is cook the beans for several hours being sure to not let them boil dry. You may have to add water as they cook. The longer they cook, the more tender the bean and thicker the soup. Inexperienced cooks often under cook them. At some point during the process, add a little oil or shortening and salt. The type of oil used will change the flavor a little. Anything from lard to olive oil can be used. I prefer coconut oil. You may even want to add a little bacon or ham for a meaty flavor.
Another thing that can change the texture and flavor of your beans is what you cook them in and the temperature. Beans can be cooked in a crock pot, a pressure cooker, or a large pot on the stovetop. They can be simmered with a low heat or they can gently boil. Just be careful to not let them boil over. I personally like to use a higher temperature because it makes the soup thicker. I use a lid to partially cover the pot leaving room for steam to escape.
Beans are forgiving. As long as you sort them, wash them, and cook them long enough, while adding plenty of water, you will not go wrong. While this may seem like a long process, it can actually save time. Beans freeze very well and thaw easily. I often make a large kettle of beans and freeze in amounts needed for weeks ahead. In just a matter of minutes, I can have bean tacos, burritos, veggie bean patties, refried beans, bean dip, or soup beans.
A word of caution, beans may cause an unpleasant side effect. If you have heard the various jokes associated with beans, I am sure you know what I am talking about. Those jokes are true. Because beans are high in fiber, they can cause intestinal discomfort if you are not used to eating them. Many times, slowly increasing your intake of fiber will reduce bloating and gas. There are also remedies available in your local pharmacy.
While I encourage every one to at least try pinto beans, I realize not everyone will be impressed. For those who absolutely detest beans, try to discover why. Is it the flavor? Is it the texture? Perhaps you do not care for beans and cornbread, but what about beans and biscuits? Maybe try adding different spices to achieve variety in flavor. Garlic, onion, salsa, even a little sugar can change the flavor dramatically. Experimentation is the key and with beans ideas are unlimited. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to check on my beans.