Black beans are a great source of inexpensive vegetarian protein and can be incorporated with all sorts of recipes from homemade chili to black beans and rice. When shopping for black bean, you generally have two primary choices: dried or canned. While most home cooks rely on the convenience of canned black beans, we think that there is a better way.
Despite their popularity, most cooks agree that canned beans are generally mushier and less flavorful than their home-cooked counterparts.
They also tend to have additional sodium and other additives that many of us hope to avoid. So how can we take those dried black beans and turn them into an easy and usable ingredient even for fast weeknight meals? First you have to find the right beans.
How to Select Dried Black Beans
When buying bulk dried black beans, buy only as much as you will use in a month. Packaged, dried beans should contain no broken beans and should be in tightly sealed packages. Tiny pinholes in dried beans indicate bug infestation and should be avoided. Also, avoid any shriveled or broken beans.
How to Store Dried Black Beans
Dried black beans can be stored in a sealed container in a cool, dry place up to 1 year. Despite their long shelf-life, do not mix new beans with any remaining older dried beans when restocking your dried bean inventory. Not mixing your dried beans is less about their shelf-life as it is about their cooking time.
Dried beans of different ages will cook at different rates, as older beans will take longer to cook. But if you hope to replace your canned black bean use while still enjoying the convenience, you'll need to prepare these dried beans ahead of time.
How to Prepare Dried Black Beans
Black beans that come in dried form cannot be eaten fresh.
Instead the beans must be soaked, reconstituted, and cooked before eating. These time-consuming steps are what most home cooks try to avoid when buying canned black beans, but if you're willing to spend a little extra time preparing your dried beans in bulk, you'll have home-cooked black beans available whenever you need them.
You will want to soak your beans in water overnight and then choose your preferred method of cooking. We love the hands-off nature of cooking black beans in a slow cooker, but the oven is also a fool-proof method. You can flavor the cooking beans with garlic, salt, and other spices while cooking. Some home cooks even add fresh vegetables like carrots and celery. However you choose to cook your beans, it's what you do with them after that makes all the difference.
How to Store Cooked Black Beans
Cooked beans can be refrigerated and used within 5 days, so if you're planning ahead for the week on Sunday, you have all week to use your home cooked black beans. But if you're looking to cook more than a week's worth of beans, you always have the freezer method as well. To freeze cooked beans, portion the cooled beans into airtight containers and cover with cooking liquid.
You may choose to add a little white wine vinegar as well (about 1 to 1½ tablespoons per pound of dried beans), which can help keep the whole beans from splitting when frozen. You can freeze cooked black beans for up to 6 months, but we find that after 3 months their texture becomes dry. To use your frozen beans, simply thaw in the refrigerator overnight or defrost in the microwave.
More About Black Beans
For more about black beans from cooking tips to recipes, be sure to check out these great resources:
• Black Bean Cooking Tips
• Black Bean Selection and Storage
• Black Bean Popular Recipes and Dishes
• Black Bean Measures, Weights, Substitutions, and Equivalents
• Black Bean History
• Black Beans Recipes
Black Beans Photo © 2007 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.
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