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ISO ideas for getting flavor into cooked beans

I commonly make bean salad, chili, and soups with beans. Lately I've been playing around with cooking soaked dried kidney beans. It's easy to make refried beans or to put them into a flavorful sauce, but ideally I'd like them to be tasty enough to be an appealing side dish on their own. Since salt and acid toughen them, cooking them in broth or tomato is out. I've added onion and garlic to the cooking water and that DOES flavor them a little but they're still rather blah. Is there anything else that can go into the soaking and/or cooking water to give them flavor throughout? (Not a fan of hot peppers, cumin, turmeric or anything remotely anise-like, which rules out fennel, cilantro, and even parsley.)

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  1. fully cook the beans.

    then: scoop out the beans and saute with red onion and CUlantro (wait, you don't like that flavor -- so just try with bell pepper) and a little bit of garlic. Tasty and easy.

    1. Salt doesn't toughen them. Lots of empirical info out there. Salt!!!

      5 Replies
      1. re: Aromatherapy

        salt won't toughen, but the acidic tomato at the start of cooking will prevent proper softening.....

        1. re: alkapal

          Is this why karmalaw want you to scoop them out; the skins get tough? Lotta damn work, seems like to me...

          1. re: Scargod

            i think karmalaw simply meant to remove the cooked beans from the cooking liquid. ;-).
            otherwise, that would be a tad labor intensive...
            but i do know one thing for sure, williams-sonoma would carry a bean-scooper tool in its catalogue, made of 18/10 stainless steel from germany, for only $29.95!

            (i amuse myself!) LOL!

            1. re: alkapal

              exactly - scoop them from the liquid so you aren't trying to saute a pan of water. you want a little liquid -- just not a lot.

              And don't cook the beans with the salt -- you add the salt while sauteing.

              I don't salt beans unless I am slow cooking them to serve as-is (i.e. butterbeans or black eyed peas or black beans, etc)-- then I do it with smoked meat. On some beans I add a splash of apple cider vinegar while cooking -- helps bring up the flavor and, if I remember correctly, helps keep them soft.

              At any rate -- I don't have a tough bean problem.

          2. re: alkapal

            I never add acid to the cooking liquid when making beans. No vinegar or tomatoes, these come at the end. I do add salt. But when making black beans I add a large diced onion, green pepper and garlic, salt and olive oil to the liquid at the start of cooking and have never had a problem with the beans cooking. Now that I think about it an onion will cause quick oxidation and patina formation on my carbon steel knives. On a quick check of pH and food items I found onions and peppers to have a pH of 5.3-5.9. Tomatoes are about 1 point lower.

        2. I soak with onion, strange, but good. I also cook in broth, with onions, garlic, some herbs, to your taste, red or sweet peppers, also paprika, cumin. I can add some red pepper pesto, not using what you don't like. Tomatoes is great and, spinach or chard is also good for flavor. A potato, bean and spinach dish is very good. Add some grilled chicken or ham and it is a meal. Beans are great added to fresh salads. Let them marinade in a vinaigrette after cooking and wonderful. Pureed along with some vegetables for a great pasta sauce. Some good vegetables and beans simmering alog time 3-4 hours with garlic onions and some herbs, puree and then add to sauteed spinach, onions, pasta, roasted grape tomatoes and crimini mushrooms and you have a wonderful dinner. They are just as good alone.

          Cook the beans with some onion and garlic and after add sauteed spinach and fresh tomatoes and olives. Great side dish.

          I also like them cold with olives, cauliflower blanched, peas, artichoke hearts and feta cheese.

          Many varieties. See my profile and check my email or just post back and I will be glad to share.

          1. What I'll do is salt the water halfway through the process. Doesn't toughen them up, and the half-way through is a just in case the old wives tale is true.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jaykayen

              Thanks, jaykayen - I'll try that next time, as well as kchurchill's suggestion of onion in the soaking water (maybe garlic powder too). I've got plenty of multi-ingredient recipes with beans - this time I'd just like to produce some that are permeated with flavor during the initial cooking, so they are tasty enough to eat that way.

            2. I cook the beans completely in salted water (ain't never had none of 'em get tough) then drain and store in a bowl into which I pour the flavoring ingredients. I often chop the flavoring ingredients VERY fine (almost a puree) and stir these into the beans, then cover and store in refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Flavors infuse into the beans nicely.

                1. You don't say you're vegetarian, so pork, fat or meat is an obvious choice. For kidney beans, I may add ham hock or turkey leg or bacon when I start cooking the beans in water. You can keep the meat in or remove it. I would cook the bacon first, but not the others.

                  Another way to up the flavor is to brown the onion before adding the beans to cook. Chop the onion and saute in fat--like olive oil or veg oil--until the onions are golden and browned, about 10 minutes. This adds a more savory and meaty flavor. Add your dry beans, cover with water, and cook as usual. You could also do some carrot.

                  For herbs, how about epazote, rosemary, thyme?

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: cocktailhour

                    I was just going to say, carmalized onions. Not just a few. Take a couple of onions and slice in moons, cook for about 40 minutes on low (as if you are making French Onion soup). cooking with some olive oil and butter ( you don't HAVE to use butter, I do) and then puree or just add to your cooked beans. I have been making beans for years. I make all kinds, and all ways. I have yet to have a bean toughen up. I know that several people make this claim, but it has not ever happened to me. I always salt the water. I
                    rinse them several times, pick them over very well, and then let them soak overnight. I use the water they have soaked in.

                    I'm wondering how you're cooking them, you didn't say that couldn't make a good pot of good tasting beans, just asked for ways to add more flavor. Salt them and salt them through out the cooking, they can take it. Most of the time I cook them in a broth and the soaking liquid. I made a pot of beans for the super bowl party, using a pork roast, which really flavored them sooooo nicely. A couple of stalks of celery are also flavor boosters.
                    It's too bad that you don't care for cumin. It is one of those spices like cilantro that grows on you, and you either like it or don't. But as I've gotten older, I really appreciate the flavor that good cumin brings to a pot of beans. I add about 2 Tablespoons to my crockpot of beans. Add 3 or 4 bay leaves and take them out.
                    Do you have a preferences for beans? And how do you like to make them?
                    I hope you get lots of responses, I'm always looking at ways to cook them was well.
                    I don't even know if I have a favorite bean anymore, I pretty much eat them all.

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      Really no preferences - I was experimenting with kidney beans because they are common. Yesterday I soaked a half-pound then cooked with onion and garlic in the cooking water. Needed something more so I sauteed diced kielbasa, more onion, celery, added the beans plus tomato soup, ketchup, mustard, a tomato-based Hawaiian sweet&sour sauce, and black truffle oil. Tasty but now a main dish.
                      I usually do use beans with some sort of pork product either as an entree or in soup.
                      Dry lima beans (which are really butter beans, not the smaller green limas) plus lamb shank, celery, onion, carrot, and garlic make a favorite soup. All kinds of beans in bean salad.

                      I like beans and need them for glucose and cholesterol control, and fiber. Just would like to find a simple meatless prep that makes them a good substitute for any plain vegetable side. I'll try cooking them in the flavored soaking water, as several posters suggested.

                      Ooh - just had a thought. I've been staring at all the pickle juice in a large jar of bread&butter pickles. I fish out the onion and chop it along with pickles for tuna salad and potato salad (also pickle juice on the just-cooked potato for the latter). It's too acid to cook the beans in it but if I pour some on while they're still hot.....that should be good eaten hot, warm, or cold.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        Dressing hot beans with vinaigrette (many variations) is good. You might also look into Indian or Indian-ish treatments for meatless dishes. They are the masters of meatless beans/peas/lentils, IMHO. Preps can be very simple.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          Finally got around to using the pickle juice - success! I soaked a blend of dry navy and pinto beans, then cooked them with onion and celery. When they were done, I heated pickle juice and poured it on them. I'm using them as a cold side dish. Lots of flavor and enough difference in flavor from a standard 3-bean salad to add variety to my bean repertoire. I am looking forward to trying the "double whammy" Georgian dish of beans and prunes (once I get the tamarind paste and kombu) linked to on another thread:


                      2. re: cocktailhour

                        Yes, I use epazote, rosemary and particularly, thyme. Good suggestion. Sage....
                        I'm also finding lots of interesting uses for the McCormick applewood smoke flavored ground black pepper.

                      3. ham hock, just even a ham bone, even a beef bone or chicken. Anything to infuse flavor works.

                        1. After soaking (with an onion sounds great) saute the beans in a bit of olive oil and a handful of your aromatics, stir frequently for 4-7 minutes. Add the water and/or stock then boil for 5 full minutes. Reduce to simmer, partially covered until done.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: h2Bn

                            That includes garlic right? Totally agree. Nice and simple. Most any kind of beans and could always top with a variety of condiments or vegetables.

                            1. re: kchurchill5

                              Yes, it includes garlic. My standard for infusing the flavor is the standard garlic, onion, celery. During cooking I add other vegetables and spices.

                          2. For meat I use dried African game meat or smoked lung.

                            1. I am a big fan of the actual earthy taste of the beans themselves. Planning to treat myself to some Rancho Gordo products soon.

                              I recently made a really good simple pot of beans with pintos using pork broth leftover from simmering a fresh pork hock. It had been de-fatted and had a long simmered garlic background. The only flavoring other than salt (which I add when the beans can be bitten into but are still crunchy) was a dried ancho/pasilla chili. It has a sweet smoky flavor. I leave the beans a little soupy and usually mash a bit with the potato masher so that I have a thick creamy end result with mostly whole beans. Bowlfuls were eaten topped with fresh salsa.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: torty

                                I recently tried several types of Rancho Gordo and Purcell Mountain Farms beans. Although I like the eye appeal of the various shapes and sizes, I haven't found that there's enough bonus flavor (as compared to supermarket dry beans) to justify the premium prices. If the beautiful patterns and colors didn't fade out during cooking, MAYBE....but if I order online again at all, it would be varieties like the tepary bean and the rice bean, whose small sizes make them quicker-cooking and a nice size for soups.

                                Just recently I saw the America's Test Kitchen (or Cook's Country - not sure which) show where they explained that beans should have salt in the soaking water, not the cooking. I haven't had occasion to try that yet. This is supposed to keep the skins from splitting and to flavor the beans without toughening.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  greygarious, salt in the soak water? that's a new one on me. have you tried it since you learned the tip from atk?

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    I haven't, necause I've been using them in soup made with clam base or chicken base - already enough salt in there. According to the current "brine for beans" thread, it yields great results.

                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      oh, i haven't seen that thread. will look for it, as we are eating more beans these days. thank goodness we love beans! ;-).

                                  2. re: greygarious

                                    Yes, I agree regarding Rancho Gordo. I liked their beans, but I was expecting to be blown away! I wished I lived close enough to buy them without the shipping charges.

                                2. Cook them in homemade vegetable broth (no salt) with a bay leaf or two, crushed garlic and a piece of kombu. Remove the kombu when the beans come to a boil, turn down and them simmer. But I like the taste of beans and eat them with simply olive oil and a variety of vegetables as a salad.

                                  1. I've cooked beans in broth with no problem. Also, cook in water with onion, garlic, salt, bay leaf whatever. Then leave them in the liquid when you're done. Dried mushrooms towards the end are good as well.