It all started with my collector’s mindset. Something I didn’t know I had because I can’t recall collecting anything as a kid – not coins, or stamps, or dolls...
But then I met a lady who grew 10 different kinds of tomatoes, and now I have seeds of over 200 tomato types. She also introduced me to dried beans later on – with all their different shapes, sizes, colours it was inevitable for me to get excited over them!
My collection of over 16 different dried beans pales when you realise there are more than 40,000 bean varieties - though only a few hundred are commercially grown.
What are beans
Beans are the edible pod-borne seeds of leguminous plants.
They are amazing crops – the plants are easy to grow, highly productive, somewhat resistant to drought, and the seeds have a phenomenal nutritional profile and keep for a very long time.
Early records show they have been part of prehistoric agriculture worldwide, becoming a staple to early civilizations. They are a nutrient dense food and a top source of plant proteins. They are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals.
As an example, a cup of boiled pinto beans offers:
20% DV (daily value) of Iron
8% DV of Calcium
21% DV of Magnesium
25% DV of Phosphorous
21% DV of Potassium
74% DV of Folate
Beans also contain decent amounts of zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and vitamins B1, B6, E, and K.
Beans are a sustainable vegetarian protein that is very affordable.
Beans are a summer crop and prefer warmer temperatures, so in North Canterbury you can plant out or sow direct from late October through to January, depending on your microclimate. Beans have fragile root systems and although transplanting from seed punnets work, direct sown beans are best.
Most beans are climbing and need a frame to support – some can grow over 4m vines! Others are dwarf and grow as short as 30cm.
Beans prefer a sunny position in well-drained soil but the garden bed doesn’t need to be overly rich. Water regularly, but don’t overwater.
Beans are generally easy care and not too vulnerable to pests or diseases.
For dried beans, harvest the pods when fully ripe and drying. For green beans, harvest often as soon as the pods are well formed.
Bean companions include: sweetcorn, spinach, lettuce, summer savory and winter savory, carrots, dill, any brassica, zucchini. It is said that anything in the onion family should not be grown close to beans.
Shell out your dried beans and ensure they are very dry before storing in sealed jars or containers out of direct sunlight in a cool and dry place.
Beans are best used within two years of harvest, but unless they are very shrivelled and hard, can be used much longer than that. If you buy dried beans in a store, unless the bag has a best before date, it is suggested you keep them only for a year.
When cooked, 1 cup of dried beans yields approximately 2-3 cups of cooked beans, depending on type of bean.
To soak or not
While it’s not strictly necessary and only lessens your cooking time by a small amount, soaking ensures the beans maintain a good shape and texture, and cook more evenly. It also reduces the negative effects beans can have on our digestive systems (gassiness).
If you do soak, you can do so with salt – and just reduce the salt in final cooking. (I’ve never tried this, but could be an interesting option.)
Long soak – put the beans in a bowl and cover with water. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and leave overnight on the countertop. Drain and rinse and cook as per recipe.
Quick soak – put the beans in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest in the warm water for about an hour. Drain and rinse and cook as per recipe.
No soak – put the beans in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil. Rinse and cook as per recipe.
Cook with aromatics
After soaking, depending on the use of your beans in your final recipe, it is fantastic to add some aromatics to the cooking process. Simply heat oil in a pot and add a combination of onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper, carrots or other chopped vegetables. Fry the aromatics somewhat to release their flavour before adding the beans and topping up with stock or water to boil.
You can also add tomato paste.
Bring to a gentle simmer and cook uncovered. If foam gather at the top, simply skim it off. Beans should remain under liquid at all time, so top up when necessary.
Beans are done when they give easily when squashed with a fork, but should not be mushy.
Time to cook:
Small beans (black beans, black-eyed peas and navy beans): 45 to 90 minutes
Medium beans (kidney, pinto, chickpeas): 60 to 120 minutes
Large beans (large Lima, Cannellini beans, butter beans): 80 to 180 minutes
Add salt halfway through
About a tablespoon of salt per 500g beans can be added about three quarters of the way through cooking - more or less when the beans are tender but not fully cooked.
Keeping cooked beans
Once cooked, beans will keep in the fridge for up to four days and can be frozen for months.
Frugal fun idea
Save the cooking liquid and:
Add to soups or stews – extra flavour!
Make Aquafaba - reduce the cooking liquid until it becomes a consistency similar to that of egg whites. Then it can be used as an egg replacer in many recipes.
Here are some dried beans I have grown, or am growing this season: