Beans are wonderful, but can be pretty bad if you do not know what you are doing. Whether you want to cook red, black, white, black eyed peas or lentils, this article will give you some tips on cooking bean.
To Soak or Not to Soak?
It has long been told that you have to soak your beans for them to be any good. People have all sorts of theories on this, ranging from reducing flatulence to flavor enhancement. The truth is soaking your beans for several hours speeds up the cooking process, but only marginally. The tradition of soaking beans stems from the fact that cooking food use to require more time and resources. Wood burning stoves were hard to light, required constant attention, and cost resources to maintain (wood), so people would soak their beans in order to make any easy gains they could in the cooking process. So go ahead, soak if you want to, but it is not going to do that much for you.
Vegetables to Add
Beans are just not very flavorful, but they can taste great if you add the right vegetables and season them correctly. There is a great French tradition of starting off many dishes with a Mirepoix. A Mirepoix is normally composed of 3 vegetables sauteed in oil or fat: celery, onions and carrots. This is a great way to flavor your dish. There are variations in what you can and should use depending on the flavor you are going for. In New Orleans, they call it the Holy Trinity: celery, onions and bellpepper. A tremendous variety of Cajun and Creole dishes are composed using the trinity. No matter what style of beans you are cooking, you can almost always benefit from the use of fresh chopped garlic as well. If you are cooking black beans (or any type really), you can add chopped or canned tomatoes, which do not have to be sauteed before adding to the pot.
Many times, meat is added to beans, not only because the meat itself taste good, but to add flavor to the overall stew. Pork, and specially bacon, are quite common in bean dishes. To use bacon, fry the bacon first, drawing out the fat, and then fry the vegetables in this fat (rather than adding oil). Add the bacon later when all the ingredients of the stew come together. Another great type of pork to use is the hamhock. Hamhocks are a very tough, yet flavorful, inexpensive and well-marbled cut of meat: perfect for beans and stews. To use a hamhock, simply add it to the pot when you are ready to begin cooking.