Last week’s story on dried beans certainly opened a can of them with readers.
I got lots of calls from cooks who use salt pork to season their beans, prefer the quick boil-and-then-soak method or wanted to share their favorite cornbread recipe. Since we’re all so excited to talk about beans, I thought I’d round up a few additional thoughts as a follow-up, both in print and here on the blog. (And if you’re craving a bowl of beans like the one above, don’t forget that you can find the recipes with that column here.)
First off, the freshness of your beans makes more of a difference in cooking time than how long you soak them, or if you do at all, although soaking them does help them cook more evenly. Really old dried beans will take a much longer time to soften, and even then, the texture will likely be off.
Reader Marcia Thompkins pointed me to Adelle Davis’ 1947 book “Let’s Cook It Right,” which encourages us to cook beans in the same water that they’ve been soaked in as to not throw away the nutrients that leach into the water.
All these years later, there are lots of conflicting studies about how many nutrients are actually lost during the soaking process, including from a camp of folks who think beans are more nutritious after soaking because they lose their phytic acid, which can reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Some dried beans, including red kidney beans, release potentially toxic substances into the water when soaking, so it’s definitely a good idea to drain them, and all beans lose some of the gas-producing sugars when they are soaked.
The studies that I looked at found that the amount of nutrients lost during the soaking process is negligible and that the lack of gas-producing sugars is worth throwing out the water, but Cook’s Illustrated recommends soaking and cooking beans in salty water, which breaks all the rules.
If there’s one truth about cooking, it’s that we like to do things the way we always do, except when we don’t. I loved hearing about how your families made beans so that they’d be less gassing, including my favorite — hang a string over the edge of the pot and leave one end soaking in the beans.
The truth is that eating beans more regularly will allow your digestive system to get used to all that extra fiber, especially the billions of bacteria that call your intestines home.
And now for a cornbread recipe that Nelda Bracksieck of Georgetown says is the only one you’ll ever need.
Old-Fashioned Corn Bread
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 large eggs
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. Crisco shortening (not oil)
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven for 10 min. using no shortening
Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and red pepper in a large bowl.
Combine buttermilk and baking soda in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Beat eggs and butter with a fork in a small bowl until blended. Add all the wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring until combined.
Add the Crisco to the hot skillet and return to oven for 1 minute until shortening is melted. Pour batter into hot skillet. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Cut into 8 wedges.
— From Nelda Bracksieck