New Location

You can find all the old content and new stuff too at

Monday, November 23, 2015

My 2 cents on soaking or not soaking beans and a bean soup recipe

There's an article up on Food52 that presents both sides of the bean argument. That argument being should you soak your beans before cooking or should you go straight to cooking?

I've done it both ways. Sometimes I use the fast soak method. I've cooked them from dried too. Now that I have a modern electric pressure cooker, I almost always cook beans from dried under pressure. It is the quickest way to tasty beans. You can cook chickpeas from dried in under an hour.

I do think the soak then cook method does cut down on the gasiness of beans. There are long-chain carbohydrates in beans that dissolve into the soaking water. If you throw away the soaking liquid, you've reduced the amount of these indigestible (to us anyway; gut bacteria gobble them up, releasing a number of volatile organic compounds) starches.

The biggest reason beans are blah-tasting, no matter which way you cook them, is you didn't add enough (or any) salt when you cooked them. You will find many chefs who say "Don't ever salt your beans before they are nearly completely cooked. They won't cook if you add salt." To this I say  "Have you actually tried it?" Because, I have, and I find that salt does not slow down the cooking. I live in a place where beans cook more slowly anyway (water boils here in Boulder at 204°F - about 8°F lower than sea level) so I have no desire to slow down the cooking. It takes a long time already! My experiments show that adding salt at the beginning doesn't slow down cooking. And it definitely makes your beans taste better than if you wait until the end to season them with salt.

Here's a bean soup recipe where the salt goes in at the beginning, as well as a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. The beans aren't soaked first, though you could start with soaked beans. [You'll be able to cut down on the cooking time by about half. You should reduce the cooking water down to 6 cups.] They are cooked with the seasonings until nearly done. The soup is finished with some fresh veggies that need only a short time to cook. It's a hearty soup with plenty of umami from the Parmigiano-Reggiano. I recommend that you always toss the rinds in the freezer so you can add them to soup, this one or this one with chickpeas.

Tuscan Bean and Swiss Chard Soup
(serves 6)

1 pound (2 cups) Great Northern, navy, or cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups water
3" x 4" piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ teaspoon salt
4 cups low-sodium stock (either vegetable or chicken)
1 fennel bulb, stalks discarded, cored and coarsely chopped
½ pound Swiss chard leaves, washed and coarsely chopped

Heat the oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onion, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook another minute. Add beans, 8 cups of water, rind, bay leaves, black pepper, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 1 ½ hours until beans are tender. The time is variable - depends on your altitude (will cook quicker at sea level) and the age of your beans (old beans can take a very long time to cook). Test at an hour and see how its doing.

Once the beans are tender, add in the stock, fennel, and Swiss chard. Cook until fennel is tender, about 10 minutes. Fish out the cheese rind and chop. Add back to the soup. If the rind fell apart on its own, no worries. The rind is totally edible and it adds great flavor and texture to the soup.

Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet January 2004.