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How to cook all those dried beans

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Mid-February, I was talking to my daughter on the phone. She said she was about to tell me something which would probably make me laugh. She announced that she had just bought 75 pounds of beans and 25 pounds of rice from her local food co-op. She was right. I laughed, but I am not laughing now. The last two times I went to the store, the shelves were devoid of dried beans of any kind.

In any time of crisis, it is good to have a food source that will keep a long time. Dried beans fill the bill. Theoretically, they will last indefinitely, but it is best to use them within a year, as after that, they will take a very long time to cook. The expression “tough beans” came about for a reason. If you’ve had a bad experience cooking beans, it was probably because they were too old.

In addition to their long shelf life, beans check all the boxes for a healthy diet. Along with being an affordable source of protein, they provide fiber, iron and vitamins that offer many health benefits.

Beans are a versatile ingredient. They can be used in salads, soups, stews, casseroles and dips. Beans are a popular ingredient in many cuisines, so it’s time to think beyond chili to dishes such as cassoulet and pasta e fagioli.

Mexican-style beans are just one option for the dried beans hanging out in the pantry. Try to use up dried beans within a year after purchase — if you don’t, well, that’s “tough beans.”

Tips: If you’ve never cooked dried beans before, here are a few tips. For the shortest cooking time, soak the beans overnight. Cover the beans with about 2 inches of water and add one tablespoon salt. In addition to faster cooking, the soaking helps the beans cook more evenly. The salt breaks down the skins and makes beans easier to digest.

When ready to cook, drain the beans and cover with 1 inch fresh water. Don’t add any acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, until the beans are cooked. Pre-soaked beans take about 45 minutes to cook.

Below is a recipe for Mexican-style beans. The preparation takes a bit of time, so I cook up a pound of beans and freeze them in 1-pint containers. They make a great side dish for any Mexican-style dinner. If I have any leftovers from dinner, I like to mash and “refry” them to make a bean dip.

Mexican-style Beans

1 pound kidney, pinto, or red beans

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 red or green bell peppers, quartered and thinly sliced

2 large onions, quartered and thinly sliced

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 cup crushed tomatoes

Salt to taste

Cook the beans as directed above. While the beans are cooking, take a large skillet and heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the onions, peppers and garlic. Cook the vegetables for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cumin and oregano and cook for about a minute or until you smell the spices. Add the tomatoes, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the contents of the skillet to the pot of cooked beans and stir. Taste for salt.

Cook partially covered for 30 minutes for the flavors to meld.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.