Tag Archives: beans

Red Beans and Rice

Regular old ferial meals ought to do two things in my house. One, they need to require minimal input from me if I’ve been in the lab that day. I don’t know what it is, but by the time I get home from work, my whole brain above the brainstem just seems to shut down. So by the end of a work day, the work necessary to put dinner on the table needs to be at the instinctual level.  Two, they ought to provide some sort of leftovers for Himself to take for lunch.  I like leftovers for lunches because I can do all the lunch packing the night before, which limits the amount of work I do impaired by a general lack of coffee the next morning.  Thus I love crock pot meals. They’re easy. They’re filling. They make plenty. They reheat well. And, properly done, they don’t leave many dishes for after dinner, when I’m not only barely alive, but postprandial to boot.

This red beans and rice recipe meets all these criteria.  I have no idea how authentic it is, but we think it’s pretty tasty and so I don’t fret about authenticity.  I use small red beans (that’s their name, as far as I can discover) over kidney beans to avoid the phytohaemagglutinin issue.

  • 1/2 pound small red beans (not kidney beans)
  • 2 quarts salt water (2 quarts + 2 Tbsp kosher salt)
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 small or 2 large stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • a dash of cayenne
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups chicken stock

For this recipe you need a standard 3 quart crock pot.*

The night before:

Pick over your red beans, wash them, and brine them overnight in the salt water.  It won’t make them hard.  A hard bean is an old bean.

Melt your bacon grease in a skillet.  What, you mean you don’t have a jar of bacon drippings in your fridge??  Use canola oil, but be warned, the finished dish will lack flavor.  Sauté your vegetables (except the garlic) in the skillet till they’re soft. Add the seasonings (pepper, cayenne, bay leaf, parsley, thyme) and the ham hock. Brown both sides of the ham hock well. Add the garlic at the end, so it doesn’t burn. When the garlic is cooked, take the pan off the heat and let the contents cool. When it’s cool enough to be refrigerated, put a lid on the pan (or cover it with foil) and stick it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning:

Drain your beans and rinse them well to get the excess salt off. Put the beans in the crock pot. Put the entire contents of the sauté pan in the refrigerator in the crock pot. Add the 2 cups of chicken stock. Give it a little stir, just for formality’s sake, then cover it. Turn the crock pot on.  Don’t forget that last step.  I have, and it’s heartbreaking.

Go on about your day.

When it’s time for dinner, cook up a couple of cups of rice, white or brown, whatever you have energy and patience for.  Take a potato masher and give the contents of the crock pot a cursory mash and stir.  Serve the beans over the rice. Fall into a postprandial coma. When you recover awareness, argue about who has to load the dishwasher.

* This meal can be cooked on the stove, but it needs to simmer for at least an hour to cook the beans.  If you’re cooking it on the stove, do the initial sautéing in the pot you will use to cook the beans.  Add the beans, 2 cups of chicken stock, and 2 extra cups of water and simmer it uncovered until the liquid is reduced by half and the beans are cooked, at least an hour.  Because this cooks uncovered, you need extra liquid.  If you cook it on too high a heat, you may even need to add liquid during the cooking process.


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How to Cook Beans

Dry beans are much, much more economical than canned beans.  One pound of dry beans makes six cups cooked (roughly 3 drained cans worth) and that pound of dry beans will cost less than one can.  Excess cooked beans freeze nicely and keep for several months.  But there is a trick to getting tasty, tender beans that most people don’t know, and that trick is salt.

There is an old wives tale that says adding salt toughens beans therefore you shouldn’t salt until they’re cooked.  This is entirely false.  It’s actually been studied and disproven, but the myth persists, even perpetuated by such authorities as the National Dry Bean Council.  What makes a dry bean cook hard is its age.  The older a bean, the longer it takes to cook.  If beans are really old, they won’t ever soften.  So, use fresh beans.

I salt my beans before cooking with abandon.  If I’m soaking the beans ahead of time, I brine them.  If I’m using the quick soak method, I salt the boiling liquid in the same proportion.

  • 1 lb. beans
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt per quart cold water

And that’s all.  Pick over your dry beans, removing any that are shriveled or discolored and any foreign matter (small pebbles, etc.).  Rinse them in cold running water.  If you’re soaking, add your beans and salted water to a bowl and soak them 6-8 hours.  If you’re using the quick soak method, add your beans and salted water to a large pot and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat, cover, and soak for an hour.  When beans are finished soaking, strain and rinse them and use in any recipe requiring beans.  They still need about an hour of cooking time on the stove, or 6-8 hours in a slow cooker on low.

Charro beans are my one exception to this rule.  Those I pick over, rinse, and then cook straight in the pot until they’re done, adding more (hot) water if necessary to keep the liquid levels up.  They’re just better that way.

If I need cooked beans for a recipe, my normal modus operandi is to brine them overnight and cook them the next day in a slow cooker.  But there’s one very important exception to this rule:  kidney beans.

Kidney beans contain high levels of a toxin called phytohaemaggluttinin.  This compound is found in lots of bean varieties, but is especially concentrated in red kidney beans.  Even a few improperly prepared beans can make you quite ill.  You should always soak dry kidney beans, discard the soak and rinse, and cook at a boil for ten minutes.

But I’ll be honest – I avoid the issue entirely by not using kidney beans very much.  When I do use them, I buy them canned, as the canning process degrades the toxin.

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Charro Beans

You have ruined me on charro beans.

– guy in our D&D group.

Okay, I can’t take any credit at all for this recipe. I haven’t experimented with them so much as meticulously followed my husband’s texted instructions. It’s his recipe and he apparently came with it pre-installed – there’s no other reasonable explanation for its existence.

He says that his mom has made beans like this before, and all I can say is that, in twelve years, I’ve never had them.

Anyway, these charro beans are about as authentic as you can get short of the Rio Grande valley. They veer heavily Mex on the Tex-Mex scale and are very much a border food. Serve them as a side, or as a meal in themselves, we use them either way.

  • 1 lb. pinto beans, picked over and washed
  • water
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 lb. bacon, diced
  • 1 lb. roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 yellow sweet onion, diced (~1 cup)
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced (unseeded if you’re brave)
  • 2 cloves garlic*, minced
  • half a bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lime

There are two ways to start these. You can either soak them ~8 hours and then cook them, and they’ll cook in about 45 minutes… or you can just throw the dry beans in a pot with plenty of water and simmer them until they’re done, which takes about 2-3 hours.

We’ve cooked them both ways and they are roughly equal in unfortunate bean side effects, so you can pick the method that suits your timetable. I prefer the no-soak method, which produces deeper brown beans than the presoaked version.


Presoaked beans:

Combine a tablespoon of kosher salt, about 8 cups of water, and your dry beans in a bowl for 6-8 hours. Rinse them, throw them in a pot with some fresh water and bring to a simmer.

Dry beans:

Combine a half tablespoon of kosher salt, about 8 cups of water, and your dry beans in a big pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the beans are cooked, 2-3 hours, adding more (hot) water if needed.

I know everyone says cooking beans with salt makes beans hard. Everyone is wrong. A hard bean is just an old, dry bean – salt has nothing to do with it. Salting your beans (especially during the presoak) is the only way to actually season the bean. Otherwise, you end up with bland beans and have to salt the cooking liquid heavily to make up for it.

Trust me. We cook a lot of beans.

With that controversy behind us, when the beans are mostly cooked throw in the diced bacon and let things continue to simmer while the bacon and beans finish cooking. About 30 minutes before you want to serve them, add the tomatoes, onion, serrano, and garlic*.

*it is acceptable to substitute garlic powder for fresh garlic. Just sprinkle it in to taste.

About five minutes before serving remove the beans from the heat and stir in the cilantro and juice of one lime. These flavors dissipate with extended cooking, so I always wait till after I’ve turned off the burner before I add them. Give things a few minutes to meld, and then serve.


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