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Jan 4, 2005 03:15 PM

need help cooking beans and lentils

  • a

I can't figure out how to cook beans and lentils so that they are very soft inside, but don't fall apart. Somehow their skins always break when I cook them. Cook's Illustrated had a very good lentil soup recipe a while ago that suggested sweating lentils with sauteed veggies, tomatoes, and salt for 10 minutes before adding broth. They said that the acid from tomatoes and the salt help lentils stay together no matter how long you cook them in liquid afterwards. It worked very well when I followed that recipe exactly, but I can't get it to work if I just want to cook lentils for a side dish (without the soup). I tried sweating lentils in some white wine and salt before adding water, but they still fall apart. Any suggestions on how to achive perfect lentils? Do the same principles apply to beans, or are beans different?

Thanks so much!

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  1. f

    What if you use the Cooks Illustrated method for sweating lentils but instead of adding broth and making soup, just add enough broth or water to cover and then cook until the lentils are the right texture. If there is still water/broth left, boil it off or drain it. I haven't tried this, but it seems like it might work.

    1 Reply
    1. re: farmersdaughter
      A Fish Called Wanda

      This sounds like a good idea. I was just trying to avoid tomatoes. I like them in a soup, but I am not sure if they'd be a good addition to lentils served as a side dish. If it's the acid that's important, I was wondering if lemon juice, or vinegar would work.

    2. try this with the small, french green lentils (or good, small italian lentils). finely dice one rib of celery. saute it in small (1-2 qt) pot w/ 2-3 peeled and lightly crushed garlic cloves in about 2 T of good olive oil until the celery is softened and tender, maybe a little brown (3-5 min). add a cup of lentils, salt to taste, and enough water to cover by about an inch. cover, turn down heat, and simmer until tender (the original recipe said 20 min, but it always takes me around 45). if the lentils become tender before all the water is absorbed, simply turn up the heat and boil it away. finally, season to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of your finest olive oil. damn if those aren't the best lentils you ever made, even though they're so so simple. to give credit where credit is due, i originally got this recipe from jim dixon's real good food page, but this particular recipe isn't on the site anymore.


      1. You're cooking them too long. Cook them until they're done to your liking, and no longer. And, as farmer's daughter suggested, at that point drain them if they are still standing in liquid.

        1. Various types of lentils are more or less likely to fall apart. In order of firmest to fallapartiest, they are:

          French green (Puy) lentils
          Green or Brown lentils
          Red lentils

          Red lentils are kinda self-pureeing. If you want a firm lentil, definitely go with zee prized Puy lentil.

          Beans: i use Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" to cook beans. I've cooked beans for years but her recipes made my results completely consistent and delicious. The basic method is this:

          1. Soak the beans. Let's say 1 cup.
          2. Drain and put in a beanpot. Cover with 6 cups fresh water.
          3. Bring to the boil and boil hard for 10 min. Skim off any foam.
          4. Add aromatics. 1 quartered onion, a few cloves of garlic, some sprigs of parsley, and something to make them digestible: either 2tsp epazote (for black beans) or a pinch of asafoetida. (You can add other appropriate aromatics, too--if you want mexican style beans, use some mex. oregano and a couple chopped serranos, etc)
          5. Lower heat and simmer, GENTLY, and PARTIALLY COVERED, for about an hour.
          6. Check to see if they're partially tender. They should be. Add 2tsp salt.
          7. Simmer gently and partially covered until they are completely tender but not fallen apart. Usually another 30-45 minutes unless the beans are really old.
          8. At this point I strain the beans and freeze them with broth to cover. I save (freeze) the rest of the broth for vegetable broth, or other cooking. (Try cooking rice in black bean broth! or steam-poaching eggs in it)

          I emphasized GENTLY simmering, and PARTIALLY COVERING, because this keeps the beans in one piece.

          The salting-when-tender method was new to me. I used to salt at the end, but you have to use more salt and it tastes mostly of...salt. Salting too early will makethe beans tough, but salting when they are partially tender does not inhibit the cooking process, and the result is a more fully-flavored bean.

          The fresher the bean, the firmer it will cook up. If you can get (or grow) heirloom runner beans, you will find a beautiful and firm-cooking friend. (If you garden, grow some scarlet runner beans. Last summer we put up 3 quarts of dried beans from four plants) Black beans stay together nicely too, and are great in salads, etc. Pintos tend to go mashy (so make refried beans).

          Buenos frijoles!

          3 Replies
          1. re: patrick
            A Fish Called Wanda

            Thank you so much for just detailed reply. I'll try cooking some beans this weekend and all your tips will sure come handy.

            1. re: patrick
              A Fish Called Wanda

              So I tried cooking cannelini (sp?) beans following these instructions, and had the usual problem of broken skins and some beans breaking in half. I kept the heat at very low and didn't salt until the end. I checked them after simmering for 50 minutes, and half of them already burst. I added salt and turned off heat. Pureeing them in the food processor with some garlic and lemon juice made a really good bean spread, but that's not what I was after.

              So I am wondering if I am soaking them wrong. After soaking their skins are a tad wrinkly, and some of the skins are broken. I made sure that this is not a presoaked type of beans (the package said to soak overnight). I put them in a bowl, covered with plenty cold tap water and let them sit overnight (it turned out to be 14 hours) at room temperature. Is that too long? The one time I managed to find fresh cranbery beans, they came out perfect after cooking, but whenever I try to cook dry beans, they crack, break, and come out watery. Any ideas?

              1. re: A Fish Called Wanda

                i think one of the issues here might be the age of the dried beans. another factor is the type of bean. cannelinis are, in my experience, more likely to fall apart than some other varieties. I grow my own cannelinis, and dry them, and even with these very-fresh dried beans, they still get a little fallaparty. Which is admittedly something I like, but as you said, it's not what you're after.

                I wonder if a pressure cooker would provide you with firmer cooked beans. I've never used one, but many people swear by them. The beans are subjected to "superheating," ie above boiling temperature, for a much shorter duration. I suspect this is how all those canned beans come out so whole and perfect.

                I am not sure if soaking time would make much of a difference in a negative way. If anything, pre-soaking allows for a shorter cooking time, thus giving the beans a better chance of staying together. I used to cook my black beans without soaking, and they often got pretty mushy. But now that I soak them, they stay very firm after cooking.