It’s October, which means we’re getting into prime slow cooker season. Now, I’m still a little bit of an amateur when it comes to my Crockpot. I’ve done some neat things with it in the past – namely, I’ve made super delicious roast chicken and chicken stock – but I have yet to try all of the really cool things you can cook in it (shout out to those nifty “roasted” red peppers from yesterday’s Weekend Wrap-Up!). Did you know you can make Lasagna in a slow cooker? How about Berry Cobbler? You can make stinking Homemade Yogurt in a slow cooker, and then you can use that homemade slow cooked yogurt to replace the sour cream in this Slow Cooker Cheesecake. I’m pretty sure the Slow Cooker is the kitchen appliance equivalent to Mary Poppin’s purse.
One of my goals is to explore the world of slow cooking a little bit more, but today, I want to talk about the one thing I do use my slow cooker for – and often: beans. Dried beans! I used to buy canned beans, and from time to time I still find one in the pantry to use, but the majority of the time, I’m using dried, and today I want to tell you all of the super amazing reasons why choosing dried over canned is such a fabulous decision. And I’m not even getting sponsored to write this thing!
Ok, so we all know beans are healthy, right? They’ve got crazy amounts of fiber — I’m talking up to half the total daily recommendation for fiber in a single serving, c-r-a-z-y — plus they have lean protein and all of these other nutrients, mainly minerals. They’ve been shown to lower cholesterol and increase satiety, and aside from their pesky reputation for causing you to, ahem, a little more than usual, they’re pretty much rockstars in my book. Plus, if you cook them the right way — like I’m going to teach you how! — then that little digestive issue is much less of a problem. Also, if you’re not used to eating a lot of fiber, start slowly and gradually increase your intake over the course of several weeks or even a month, and that can also help reduce those unwelcome side effects.
So, beans are healthy. But why dry? Why is dry better? Well, I’m so glad you asked! Here’s why I like to choose dried beans:
- No sodium! Most canned foods contain tons of sodium, and beans are no exception. You can get lower sodium varieties and, if you really rinse them well, you can eliminate up to 50% of the sodium, but still — dried beans have nothing added, and that’s even lower than 50%.
- No BPA! A few years ago, Americans got really passionate about eliminating the chemical BPA from their water bottles. This was totally important to them, and I support that. But what many people don’t realize, is that canned foods also contain significant amounts of BPA — that’s what the inside of the cans are lined with. So, if you get dried beans in a little bag instead of plumped up beans in a can, no BPA.
- The Price! Guys, it is so much cheaper to buy dried beans. I did the math for you because I was feeling a little skeptical myself, and wanted to be sure. So if you take a super cheap can of beans is $.89 for 15.5 ounces — by the way, most are even more, like $1 or $1.25 for a can of that size — then you’re looking at about $.51 per cup of beans. On the other hand, a 16 ounce bag of dried beans runs about $1.99 and cooks up to yield just about 6 cups of beans total! That’s only $.33 per cup — it’s almost half the cost!
Ok, so now you know why dried beans are just so incredibly wonderful. Next comes the question that even I asked for ages — why soak? That seems like such a hassle, right? You buy a can, you pop it open, maybe drain and rinse, and you’re ready to rock and roll. Now you’re telling me I need to buy dried, soak them, cook them, cool them, and only then can I use them? Yes. That is exactly what I’m telling you. There are 2 major arguments for soaking beans:
- Phytic Acid! Phytic Acid is a pesky little compound found naturally in beans that binds really good nutrients — mostly minerals — so your body can’t absorb them, which is a bummer because you want to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. So, you soak them to break down the phytic acid and free up all of those lovely little calcium and magnesium for your body to use properly. BUT! And there’s always a but. I don’t love this reason, because they also say that by soaking it for so long, you actually wind up leaching out some of the nutrients you’re trying to preserve by reducing the phytic acid. So, eh, it’s not a bad reason to soak, but it’s not the reason to soak; kind of a catch-22. Here’s the real reason…
- GAS. Yes, that’s right. I’m gonna go there. If you soak your beans well before cooking them, you’re less likely to “toot” the way the lovely little childhood rhyme goes. See, the reason you get gas when you eat beans is because beans contain oligosaccharides — a big word for a type of carbohydrate that is digested by the nice little bacteria in your colon. When they digest the oligosaccharides, though, they release gas, and then you have gas in your colon, and there’s only one place for it to go — out. But, if you soak your beans, some of those oligosaccharides will leach out into the soaking water, meaning they won’t be in the bean anymore, meaning the bacteria won’t have as many of those compounds to digest, meaning you will have a much more cooperative derriere. Oh, and this is why you always dump the soaking water and cook them in fresh water — otherwise, they’ll just reabsorb all of those leached out oligosaccharides, and then you just wasted 8 hours soaking beans for basically nothing. There. I’ve said it. Soak your beans. Kapeesh?
Ok, so we’ve gone over what makes dried beans awesome and why, even though it takes some advanced planning, you really do want to soak them before cooking them. Now I want to talk about how easy cooking them can be. I used to try to cook my beans on the stove. You have to keep checking on them and adding more water, or else, the water evaporates, the beans burn and fuse to your pot, and you have to throw away a now ruined pot. I know, because I’ve done this. Twice. Almost gave up on using dried beans because of how obnoxious the stove-top method was. Don’t do it. There’s a better way — it’s your slow cooker. You soak the beans in the slow cooker. Change the water. Cook the beans in the slow cooker. Let the beans cool off in the slow cooker. It’s the most mindless thing — you could do it in your sleep, I bet. And then, do you know what you do? You freeze them in little 1 or 2 cup portions in freezer safe baggies, you label them, and then you freeze them. Then do you know what you have? Beans-On-Demand. BPA and Sodium free Beans-On-Demand. Just as easy as popping open a can. BOOM. No excuses. Dried beans rock.
If spending all of that time reading my ramblings about how great dried beans are isn’t enough for you — if you find yourself looking for more information on hopping on the ole dried bean bandwagon — here are some great resources:
- Should You Soak Your Grains? (bean discussion included)
- Beans Without Gas – flip to page 4 for a list of different beans and their cooking times
- Dry Beans & Legumes Cooking Chart – another good reference for cooking times
Are you ready? Are you ready for the step-by-step tutorial, with pictures, because I am so incredibly prepared for this today? Excellent! Here we go:
Dried beans may take a little bit of advanced planning, but this method, which uses a slow cooker, takes all of the effort out of it -- you won't believe how easy it is!
- 16 ounces (1 package) dried beans of choice
- water - lots of it
- 1 slow cooker
- Sort through the beans for stones that may have gotten mixed up with the beans during packaging (not pictured -- there weren't any in mine, but I've been told it can happen). Cover with water, you want about 2 inches of water above the beans, and soak for 12-18 hours.
- Dump the soaking water and cover the beans with fresh water -- you want the same amount of water in the slow cooker, about 2 inches above the beans. Set the cooker on high for approximately 3 hours (refer here [pg 4] or here for the cooking times for various beans).
- Let the beans cool. If you're cooking chickpeas and would like to peel them (I've been told this makes for a smoother hummus), you'll want to peel them before they cool completely; it's easier that way.
- Divvy up the beans into 1-2 cup portions in freezer safe sandwich bags.
- Tuck all the little baggies into one big gallon bag, and label with the type of bean and date you cooked them.
How easy was that?! I pretty much always have a stash of slow cooked beans — usually chickpeas, because they’re my absolute favorite — in the freezer. It’s so easy to pull them out in portions as I need them. Yes, I do use canned beans every once in a while (generally if I need a type of bean that I don’t eat on a regular basis, like a kidney bean…sooo not my favorite!) — and when I do, I look for low sodium varieties and rinse them well — but by and large, when you see a recipe that calls for beans on Floptimism, this is where they’re coming from! Do you cook your own beans? If not, will you give this method a try?