by Kate Heyhoe
Yield: About 6 to 7 cups
To boost the flavor of beans, always cook them with plenty of seasonings, but the seasonings you pick can vary according to preference. This recipe is my version of a versatile batch of white beans, one that's seasoned strong enough for the beans to stand on their own, but not so strong that they can't adapt to other recipes.
When whipping up your own variations of white beans, remember that you can pump up the flavor by simmering them with herbs like thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley, savory, or sage; ham hocks, salt pork, bacon, smoked turkey legs or wings, or smoked sausage; spices such as ground chiles, cumin, fennel seed, or coriander; and of course be sure to add aromatic seasonings like onion, garlic, carrot, celery, or even fresh ginger (for an Asian flavor). I always cook my beans in low-salt chicken or vegetable broth, and even though the broth contains salt, I've never found it toughens the beans as is commonly believed. Instead, it deepens their flavor considerably.
This recipe can be made by either soaking the beans first overnight or cooking them without presoaking (they just take a little longer and require more liquid as they cook). The nonsoaking method results in more flavorful beans with better texture, but it also retains more of the sugars that cause gas. To reduce the gaseous effects, add some kombu, a type of seaweed, found in Asian and whole food stores. I add about a 6-inch length of kombu and it really does work to counteract the gaseous effects, without corrupting the flavors. Try it for yourself and see!
1 pound dried white beans
1 onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, cut into thirds and then halved lengthwise
2 stalks celery, cut into thirds and then halved lengthwise
2 bay leaves
1 ham bone
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon savory
2 (14.5 ounce) cans to 1 quart low-salt chicken broth or vegetable broth
water to cover
1. Rinse the beans in a colander in the sink. Pick out any gravel or other debris.
2a. Nonsoaking method: After rinsing the beans, place them in a large pot. Continue with Step 3.
2b. Soaking method: Place the beans in a large pot. Fill the pot with water to cover by at least 4 inches. Soak the beans overnight. When ready to cook, drain the beans in a colander in the sink. Return the beans to the pot. Continue with Step 3.
3. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, bay leaves, pork, thyme, savory and broth to the pot.
4. Add enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches.
5. Slowly bring the beans to a boil. As soon as the liquid starts to boil, reduce the heat and simmer the beans slowly. Check the beans about 5 minutes after you reduce the heat—they should maintain a constant simmer without boiling.
6. Check the beans as they cook to make sure that they remain covered with liquid. If the liquid level goes below the beans, add more water.
7. Cook the beans until they're tender, but not mushy. Most soaked beans take 1 to 2 hours to cook. Unsoaked beans take longer, from 2 to 3 hours. Test the beans for doneness periodically to prevent overcooking. They should not be crunchy, but they should have some body. The actual cooking time depends on the variety of bean used, the age of the bean (older beans take longer to cook), and whether they were soaked.
8. Serve the beans plain, with some of the flavorful broth or "bean liquor," or adapt them to a favorite recipe.
Kate's White Bean Recipes:
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created May 1999
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