My beans failed. There’s just no other way to describe it. Fail, fail, fail. It’s a shame, because they would have been delicious.
Beans ‘n Greens, that was the goal. Black-eyed peas, started from dried beans, simmered in chicken broth with garlic and heaps of kale. Some smoked salt, some red wine vinegar, some dried herbs. Cooked until the kale was soft like buttah, filled with flavor when, so good that Merrie wanted more, more, more than I could pick out of the pot. The broth: delicious. What little there was of it, anyway, the tiny part not contaminated by the beans.
But oh, the beans, the beans. They had had a consistency like boiled peanuts. They remained crunchy, inedible. I did my part, or so I thought: I boiled them for several minutes, then let them soak for a few hours. Then I left them in the crock pot all day, thinking “surely they’ll soften up by evening.” They didn’t.
So I put them on the stovetop, thinking, “More heat. They just need more heat to soften.” They didn’t.
So I added water, more, and then more, thinking, “More liquid. That’s all they need to soften up.” And still, they didn’t.
Mind you, I’ve made dried beans before, mostly successfully. This time, though, was simply a failure.
Ah, but isn’t it true that there’s no such thing as failure? Only feedback? (tell that to my 12th grade European history teacher, please). So I tried to figure out what this feedback was trying to tell me. I’ve done quite a bit of reading, and thought I’d pass along what I’ve learned:
1. It is better to cook beans in soft water, rather than hard water. Do you have hard water? You’d know it if you had it; it would leave mineral deposits on your cookware, for instance. Our water comes from a well, and it is quite hard (related: our laundry is always a little less clean, and our hair a little less shiny as a result). If you have hard water and have trouble cooking beans, consider using purified water. Or maybe it’s time to finally get that water softener hooked up.
2. No purified water? Some recommend adding a pinch of baking soda to your soaking beans. But if you go this route, please don’t add too much — even as little as an eighth of a teaspoon per cup of dried beans can mess with the beans’ nutritional value.
3. Regardless of your water quality, adding any acid, like all that nice red wine vinegar, before the beans are fully cooked = really bad idea. Acidic foods prevent the bean cells from swelling, so they don’t ever break down and get soft. Any acidic ingredients — lemon, tomato sauce, wine, vinegar — shouldn’t be added until the beans are already soft.
4. There is some controversy about salting beans. It seems that in most cases, salting beans isn’t a problem unless you’re working with hard water (again, you’d know it, because your hair would lack bounce, and your clothes would never brighten in the wash). In which case, it’s a bad idea.
5. Crockpot settings can be too low in general, which is particularly bad for the beans if, uh, you have hard water.
So. If you were going to make really crappy uncooked beans, you would want to start with hard water, add salt and vinegar, and cook them in the crockpot. Voila! Just like that, you will have crappy beans that never, ever cook. It’s like a perfect storm for inedible beans.
Hard water drinkers — we recognize each other by our stained clothes and dull, lifeless hair — please consider yourself warned.
As for the rest of you, with your municipal water, your fancy Culligan systems, your shiny, luxurious hair and crisp, white laundry: you just need to leave the acid out until the beans are tender. Then you’ll be fine, you lucky shiny-haired duckies.