Conquering the Kitchen: Best Bean Cooking Techniques

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Nutritious Plant-Based Protein at a Fraction of the Cost

Looking for an inexpensive, healthy way to get more protein your diet? Beans are the key!

Beans (and lentils) are the star players when it comes to plant-based protein. And if you learn to cook dried beans instead of relying on canned, you can save a ton of money. For example, a can of organic, no-salt added beans at my local co-op is $2.49 and yields about 1 3/4 cups of beans. I can get at least a pound of the same beans dry in the bulk department for the same price (or less), and they’ll triple in size to yield 6 or more cups once cooked. That’s almost 3 1/2 times as many beans!

Do I even have to ask if you want to spend 3 1/2 times less on a daily staple? Check out the two most common methods for cooking, and get ready to embrace beans at every meal no matter what your budget.

Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)Cooking Beans: Stovetop

Simmering beans on the stovetop is a method that may seem old-fashioned, but it’s time-tested and results in tender, flavorful beans if you’re up for being patient. Since this method can take several hours, it’s best to try it on a quiet afternoon when you’re hanging out at home with the family or working in the kitchen preparing another long-cooking dish.

For tasty stovetop beans:

  • Soak beans overnight in a large bowl with enough water to cover
  • Rinse and drain the beans
  • Add beans to a large saucepan or stock pot with 3 cups of water for every cup of beans
  • Cover the pan, and bring the water to a boil
  • Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer
  • Cook for 1 hour before starting to test for doneness

If you like, you can add some flavor to your beans by tossing in garlic, onions and/or herbs when you turn down the heat to start the simmering process.

I’ve never tried this method, but I’ve read stovetop beans have a way of going from inedible to perfectly tender in a matter of minutes, so it’s important to keep testing them starting around the hour mark. Most beans take at least two hours to get to the right texture. You’ll know they’re done when you can squish one between your fingers and there’s no sign of toughness or hard spots in the core.

Lentils cook much more quickly and don’t require soaking. They’re perfect if you don’t have any cooked beans on hand and need something to add to salads or toss in a dinner dish in a hurry. Start by rinsing lentils and removing any small stones or sticks. Place them in a saucepan with twice as much water as lentils, and cook as for stovetop beans for 25 to 30 minutes. Red lentils take a little less time, around 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid before serving.

beans and lentilsCooking Beans: Pressure Cooker

My preferred method for cooking beans is to use a pressure cooker, specifically an electric model like an Instant Pot, but stovetop cookers are just as speedy. If you have a hectic schedule and are still trying to get the hang of preparing whole plant foods without spending a lot of time in the kitchen, this is the method for you.

Pressure cooking beans goes faster if you soak the beans first, but it’s okay if you forget. You can still rinse dried beans, dump them in the cooker and get good results. Follow your cooker’s instructions for liquid amounts and cooking times, or check out the handy charts on Hip Pressure Cooking. Cooking instructions also vary between different pressure cookers, so familiarize yourself with the owner’s manual for the model you have.

Plant-based pressure cooking cookbooks like The New Fast Food by Jill Nussinow or Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna J. Sass are handy to have around to answer questions and help troubleshoot if you have difficulty with your pressure cooker. There’s a bit of a learning curve with some electric models, but it’s worth getting the hang of them since you can cook most beans in under 15 minutes if they’ve been soaked first!

Here are a few tips from my own bean cooking adventures:

  • Water ratios don’t seem to be universal, so I put in enough to cover the beans by at least one inch and drain the excess when they’re done
  • Toss in a 1-inch piece of kombu seaweed (dried kelp), available at Asian markets, to tenderize the beans and add trace minerals
  • If you’re cooking chickpeas, save the water to experiment with aquafaba recipes!

Storing Your Beans

Since you’re likely to cook way more beans than you’ll use in one sitting, plan to store the leftovers. Use airtight containers to separate out single servings or meal-sized portions. It’s up to you whether to store the beans in the cooking water or drain them first. I drain it off, but if you use the stovetop method and flavor the water, you may prefer to save it.

Beans will stay tasting fresh for about four days in the fridge or up to six months in the freezer. (If you pull out a container and the beans have a slimy coating or funny smell, don’t use them!)

vegan black bean sweet potato kale quesadilla closeupBenefits of Beans

Okay, so now you’re a bean cooking boss. You have a fridge or freezer full of beans. Why make them a staple of your diet? Is eating beans every day good for you?

It’s more than good — it’s an essential part of a plant-based diet! Beans contain a powerful combination of nutrients and fiber, making them good for:

  • Improving digestion and minimizing constipation
  • Reducing the risk of colorectal cancer
  • Lowering cholesterol and improving heart health
  • Keeping blood sugar in check
  • Managing or losing weight

Beans are lower in calories than animal proteins and contain none of the potentially harmful fats and pro-inflammatory compounds. They’re also nutrient-dense, boasting high levels of iron along with a range of B vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and potassium.

Get inspired to add more beans to your meals with two of my favorite combinations:

There you go! You’re all set to rule the kitchen with your newfound bean cooking prowess.

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The Importance of Using Pure Water for Cooking and Cleaning Food

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As a vegan, you’re already committed to living a healthy lifestyle. You’ve found animal-free recipes that are delicious and easy to prepare, and you’ve already noticed the health benefits that being dairy-free, egg-free and meat-free can offer.

To bring your healthy cooking and eating up a notch, it’s also important to pay attention to the water you use for cooking. While you might already drink bottled or filtered water, filling your pots and pans with high-quality water is just as important.

The potential dangers of tap water

Although the Environmental Protection Agency has set minimum testing schedules for certain pollutants to ensure that our drinking water is safe, it can still become contaminated. For example, it might contain chemicals from industrial waste or minerals like lead or mercury. Some cities fluoridate the tap water or add chlorine, which you may wish to avoid. In many cases, people simply do not like the smell or taste of their local water.

clean and cook with pure waterHow tap water influences the taste of food

When you use tap water to boil pasta or cook veggies, the unpleasant taste is absorbed into the food and can negatively impact the flavor and color of the food. For example, if your city’s tap water contains chlorine, it will bleach veggies as they cook, leaving them looking drab and dull instead of vibrant. Unwanted minerals that make water “hard” can also have an impact on the way yeast performs in dough. If you bake a lot of your own bread and rolls and use tap water in your recipes, you might be frustrated that the baked goods don’t rise properly.

The solution: a high-quality water purifier

To make sure the water that flows from your tap is as clean, healthy and as great-smelling as possible, purchase a high-quality water purifier. This way, you can still take advantage of the convenience of filling your pots from the kitchen faucet without the worry of using water that makes your food look and taste funny. One unique option is the eSpring water treatment system by Amway that combines ultraviolet and carbon filter technology to reduce more than 140 contaminants in water while still allowing beneficial minerals like calcium and magnesium to flow through.

(QV note: I started using a DuPont water filter recently due to concerns about environmental contaminants and have noticed a marked change in the way the water tastes. I do all my cooking with it and make sure only to drink from the tap with the filter installed.)

A few words about washing fruits and veggies

Most of us already know the importance of washing our produce before eating it; in addition to removing soil from the food, it also helps to wash away contaminants and pathogens that can make us ill. To ensure that your fruits and veggies are as clean as possible, you want to do a bit more than rinse them under filtered tap water.

  • First, clean your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, and wash your fruits and veggies under the filtered water.
  • If the food has a lot of nooks and crannies, like broccoli or asparagus, soak it in filtered water for two minutes and then rinse.
  • Pat the produce dry using a clean paper towel, not the dish towel you used to dry your hands; this will remove even more bacteria from the food.

Please note, even if you are eating only organic fruits and veggies, it’s still important to follow these steps. (QV note: There may not be any pesticides, but produce can get fairly dirty during shipping, packing and stocking!)

Don’t waste all the hard work involved in preparing healthy vegan meals by using unfiltered tap water. Make sure your food looks and tastes amazing by rinsing, washing and cooking your food with high-quality filtered water. Your family will thank you for it.

Thanks to Alison Stanton for this post! Alison has been a freelance writer for the past 15 years. She enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics, and always looks for opportunities to learn about new subjects.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

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Product Review: Cookina Reusable Cooking Sheet

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Adjusting to oil-free cooking didn’t take me very long, but I did encounter occasional challenges.  For example, what to do about baking desserts or roasting vegetables?  Like most, I went out and bought parchment paper and have been using it ever since.

That is, until an opportunity to give the COOKINA Cuisine baking sheet liner a try.  Says the COOKINA ad copy:

An alternative to parchment paper and aluminum foil:

COOKINA Cuisine Reusable Cooking Sheet is an innovative, multipurpose product that creates a non-stick, easy-clean and healthy cooking & baking experience – for all those cookies, cakes and pies! Ideal for using as an alternative to aluminum foil, parchment and wax paper, users can place the cooking sheet on a baking tray to bake recipes without having to use oil or needing to clean the tray afterwards. This sheet is 100% non-stick and PFOA Free, reusable, reversible, easy to clean and easily cuts to size.

Step 1: Place COOKINA Cuisine Reusable Cooking Sheet on a baking tray or pan
Step 2: Place food on the sheet
Step 3: Enjoy the easy-to-use, nonstick surface
Step 4: No need to clean a messy pan or oven. Simply wipe the non-stick sheet off and reuse it again!

cookina nonstick baking sheet
I don’t know about you, but I’m all for less cleanup and less waste.  It drives me crazy every time I have to throw out a sheet of used parchment paper.  COOKINA promises to be safe at temperatures up to 500°F and retain its nonstick surface through multiple uses as long as it’s properly cared for.

I first tested the COOKINA sheet when baking a batch of Mark Reinfeld’s awesome mint chocolate chip cookies, which I completely fell in love with at Vegetarian Summerfest:

mint chocolate chip cookies on cookina
Since then I’ve used it to bake veggie burgers and warm up pizza. It’s already such a fixture of my kitchen that I automatically reach for it instead of the parchment paper when I need a nonstick baking surface.  I haven’t tried roasting any veggies on it yet, but it’s worked out so well with other things that I have no doubt it will be more than adequate.

As promised, the sheet cut to size quite easily and, as a bonus, didn’t stay stubbornly rolled up like parchment paper does.  There’s a lot of sheet in the box–2.84sq. ft.–so you can cut several different sizes to meet your needs.  It comes with a rather attractive metal ring for storage that slips around the rolled-up sheet to keep it neat when you put it back in the box.  There was also supposed to be a special nonabrasive scrubber, but for some reason the sheet I got didn’t come with one.

Turns out this hasn’t really mattered.  Everything I’ve cooked on the COOKINA sheet has come off with very little left behind to clean up.  What was left wiped right off and the sheet dries pretty quickly.  Compared to using parchment, it’s about 30 seconds’ worth of extra cleanup, which you can’t really argue with.

COOKINA Cuisine sheets are available at Cookina.co for $12.99.  Which, if you price it out, is a lot cheaper than trying to buy enough Silpats to fit all your pans and should last longer than four boxes of parchment paper.  It’s not often you find a product that lives up to its claims of being “ideal,” but in my opinion, COOKINA does!

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Cooking the Perfect Veggies Every Time!

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I don’t know about you, but even after cooking for as long as I have, my veggies don’t always come out the way I want them to. Part of the problem is keeping all the cooking times straight–some you can play by ear, but others need to be baby-sat nearly every moment so they don’t become charcoaled, mushy or limp.  But who has the time to stare at a bunch of carrots while they’re steaming and catch them at just the right second before they cross over from delicious to doomed?

Yeah, I don’t either.

Fortunately, the folks over at Lark and Larks have created this handy little cheat sheet of times for roasting, steaming and boiling eleven common veggies.  Click on the image to make it bigger and never worry about when to serve your asparagus (or eggplant, or green beans or cauliflower) again!

veggie cooking time sheet from lark and larks

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