I love the recipe geeks at Cook's Illustrated! This month they published a recipe for red bean and rice, which I will make very soon because it reminds me of one of my favorite grad school meals. In the recipe, they mentionned that dried beans soften up a lot better if you soak them in salted water.
There's a lot of lore to cooking beans. They can explode and turn the soup to mush, or stay hard and chewy, or be just right. If I remember correctly, you're not supposed to add salt or acidic ingredients such as tomatoes until the very end, or the beans stay hard. I haven't had huge bean disasters when I've cooked stuff on the stove and followed the above rules, but they did stay hard when I cooked them in the crock pot. I want certain things to stay hard, but beans are not one of them.
Today it was a cold and rainy Sunday. I wanted soup but didn't want to babysit it. I decided to cook some soup in the cockpot while I was of at work/the gym, and see if the bean brining technique worked as advertised.
Anyway, I had bought a 1 lb bag of '17 beans and barley mix' at Trader Joe's. I more or less followed the recipe on the bag. I gave them a quick softening treatment by combining them with 2 quarts water and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, bringing it to a boil, and then turning off the heat and letting it sit for an hour. You could also just soak them overnight without heating them. I then sauteed 1 cup chopped onion until it was browned, and then added some chopped carrot and celery (maybe 1 cup each) I drained and rinsed the beans, and then dumped them, the sauteed veggies, some garlic, about a quart of turkey broth (from Thanksgiving), a can of diced tomatoes, and some italian seasoning into the crock pot. I went to work for a few hours and then went to the gym.
When I came home the soup was done. The beans were nice and soft, with a creamy interior but hadn't exploded and turned the soup to mush. Yay! The soup had a nice clean taste, too, much better than how it tasted when I made it using the flavoring packet that is sometimes included with the beans. I am really looking forward to having soup leftovers.
Stay tuned for the red beans and rice story and the Christmas cookie baking blogs.