easy pasta e ceci photo by jonathan gayman

5 go-to recipes for dried beans

Beans are bullied legumes. They’re cruelly synonymous with disappointment (hill of beans), silly hats (beanies) and disrespected accountants (bean counters). Even worse, their foibles are laid bare in an anthem to magical fruit.

Yet, beans carry on, holding their little bean heads high because, friends, they are nutritional powerhouses. They’re packed with character-building fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. And they’re infinitely versatile, staring in main dishes, sides, salads, apps and, yes, even desserts. (I promise you, black bean brownies are a hundred times tastier than they sound.)

As a vegetarian and thrifty shopper, I have long counted canned beans among my pantry’s best friends. But it recently occurred to me that I could actually cook with those bagged dried beans instead of, you know, using them to make paper plate tambourines. Now, if you’re thinking that cooking beans “from scratch” is a waste of time, let me assure you, the resulting beans are far more flavorful and tender than anything you get from popping a top.

First, you’ll want to soak your beans overnight in brine, which is fancy talk for salt water. I use a little more than a tablespoon of kosher salt per quart of tap water, which is enough to cover a pound of dried beans. Technically the salt is optional, but I noticed significantly more bean-like flavor when the beans were brined rather than soaked in unseasoned water. The exception to the rule is black beans, which actually lost beany taste after their bath.

Many fine folks simmer their beans on the stovetop. But I cannot devote an entire afternoon to stirring legumes, no matter how much I sympathize with the cause. Instead, I suggest a slow cooker for around three-and-a-half hours on high or seven-ish on low, with zero supervision. You will be richly rewarded with beans bearing firm skins and not-mushy insides that will work like a champ in your favorite recipes. A pound of dried beans yields a whopping six cups cooked, which is roughly three to four cans’ worth. I like to freeze my leftover beans so they’re always on hand when a craving hits. Singing the bean song while you cook is entirely up to you.

Slow-Cooker Beans
6 cups

1 lb. dried beans*
5 tsp. kosher salt
18 cups water, divided

• Rinse and pick through the dried beans, removing any rocks or fragments.
• In a large container, stir the salt into 8 cups water. Soak the beans in the salt water at room temperature 8 to 24 hours.
• Drain and rinse the beans, then place them in a 6-quart slow cooker with 10 cups fresh water. Cover and cook until tender, 3½ to 4 hours on high or 6 to 7 hours on low. Use immediately or freeze up to 3 months.

*Black beans don’t need to be soaked before cooking.

avocado hummus // photo by jonathan gayman

Avocado Hummus
In a food processor, combine 2 cups cooked chickpeas, the flesh of 2 ripe avocados, 2 tablespoons tahini, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and ½ teaspoon table salt and pulse until well combined. With the food processor running, pour in ¼ cup olive oil and 2 tablespoons lime juice. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time until the hummus reaches your desired texture. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve drizzled with 1 tablespoon olive oil and garnished with 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro.

Easy Pasta e Ceci
In a food processor, pulse 1½ cups cooked chickpeas 5 to 10 times, until flaky but not smooth. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute 1 diced small white onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, 3 cloves pressed garlic, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Cook 1 minute, then reduce the heat to low. Stir in 6 cups pasta sauce and cook until heated through. Serve over 1 pound hot cooked pasta. Garnish with grated Parmesan and fresh parsley.

Mashed Bean Sammie
Puree 1 cup cooked white beans with 4 teaspoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar and kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Spread on toasted slices of multigrain bread. Top with cucumber slices, avocado and bean sprouts.

Black Bean Burritos
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute 1 cup diced red onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup packed fresh baby spinach and cook 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and ½ teaspoon kosher salt and cook 1 minute. Add 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices, 1 cup baked peeled, cubed sweet potato and 1 cup cooked black beans. Cook until heated through. Divide the sweet potato-black bean mixture evenly between 8 9-inch flour tortillas and roll into burritos.

White Bean and Andouille Soup
In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, saute 12 ounces chopped, cooked andouille in 1 tablespoon olive oil until browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage and set aside. Saute 1 cup each chopped carrots, celery and onion in the sausage drippings until soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons tomato paste, then the sausage, 6 cups chicken broth, 1 cup cooked white beans, 2 bay leaves and ½ teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Increase the heat to high, bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-high and simmer 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves
and serve.