Being a good southern girl, I’ve eaten my share of dried beans. Back in the day they were a staple of all working class southern families. They’re healthy, simple to prepare, and can easily feed a whole house full of hungry kids, something that was very important for my grandparents as both my Mom and Dad have six siblings. It seems like my grandmother always had beans soaking, cooking, or left over. We mostly ate them spooned over cornbread or, if there were any leftovers, used them as a base for “kitchen sink” soup. They became a regular around our house growing up and I now serve them about once a week.
Dried beans can be a wonderful and easy dinner. First you need to rinse them thoroughly. Keep an eye out for any foreign objects. If you have a few hours and a slow cooker you can just throw them in, add your liquid so it covers them by a couple of inches and cook on low all day. Or you can do a quick or long soak. With a quick soak put the beans in a pot, add water to cover by at least one inch, bring to a boil, cover, remove from heat and let soak for about two hours. I use the long soak, which is done by putting the beans in a bowl, covering by one inch or so with water, and allowing to soak overnight. Regardless of which soaking method you use, to cook you drain, put in a large pan, add unsalted stock/broth or water to cover by about two inches, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until the beans are cooked through. The amount of time to cook is largely dependent upon the size of the bean. Split peas may take as little as half an hour where as butterbeans might take a couple. Once they’re done season with salt and pepper to taste and you’re done. You should never add salt as the beans are cooking as it can prevent the proper absorption of water. Other additions you might want to throw in for flavor include: onions, green peppers, garlic, bay leaves, parsley, carrots, parsnips, a ham bone or smoked turkey leg. Try serving them southern style by ladling the beans and juice (called pot liquor in the south) over a slice of corn bread (not the sweet northern style, the southern style) and garnish with slices of fresh onion and tomato and a couple of hot peppers to nibble on while slurping down those beans.
Now let’s talk about the stinky elephant in the room. Beans cause gas, there’s no denying it. I’ve spent many a sleepless night ruing the beans I’d eaten for dinner. But I’ve got a couple of easy, natural ways to either significantly reduce or completely eliminate the problem. First, the long soak tends to reduce the gas quite a bit. If you’re going to be using the beans for something like kidney beans in chili that may be all you need to do. But if you’re going to be eating larger portions you can add about one tablespoon of baking soda (to a whole bag of beans) while cooking. That will eliminate the gas almost completely. Another very effective additive is an herb called epazote. You can find this growing wild or dried in many health food stores. You don’t want to use it for taste so only add a few fresh leaves or about a tablespoon dried. Epazote is a carminative which is an herb or spice that either prevents the formation of gas or facilitates the expulsion gas. I personally want to eliminate it NOT assist in the expulsion thereof. Other carminatives that you can include are: Basil, Caraway, Cardamom, Coriander, Cumin, Dill, Fennel, Ginger, Goldenrod, Hops, Marjoram, Mustard, Nutmeg, Oregano, Parsley, Pepper, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, or Thyme. Try using small amounts of a couple of your favorites that fit the flavor profile you’re developing.
You don’t have to be from Alabama to enjoy a big pot of black eyed peas and cornbread. And don’t be afraid of those painful and potentially embarrassing after shocks, they’re easy to prevent.