Those of you who follow my vegetarian recipes will have noticed that I get through a lot of beans, generally Napolina brand canned beans. In terms of cost these work out around the same as soaking and cooking my own beans on the hob, and vastly cheaper than cooking them in the oven.
And yes, I know I’ve said that before, but I have a bit more info now.
The downside to using canned beans is that there is no bean-flavoured stock, as the cooking liquid in the cans has to be thrown away and the beans washed (if the beans are packed in water, you can be pretty sure it’s not the water they were cooked in).
I’ve experimented with cooking beans in my slow cooker, with good results, so I thought it was time to try and cost what I’m doing and translate it into can-equivalents.
So last night I put 600g (dry weight), of soaked and drained organic pinto beans in the slow cooker, along with a couple of peeled and chopped carrots and an onion, peeled and cut in half.
Look, no matter what TV chefs might say and do, NEVER use unpeeled onions. Anyone with half a brain will know that between the layers of onion skin, and even the outer scales of the onion bulb, mould can lurk (and soil, manure, and bugs, too, can all work their way in). You do not want that in your food. Chefs don’t care, because they’ve got lazy, used to having some minimum-wage commis chef do the veg prep for them, and either forgotten how manky veg can be or simply don’t care. I tend to think it’s the latter. I’ve sat here and watched TV chefs – and yes, Nigel Slater, I do mean you, though you’re far from alone – put vegetables into a dish that I’d have put in the bin.
Anyway, back on topic – 600g beans, 2 carrots, 1 onion, NO SALT, cover with boiling water, bring back to the boil (modern slow cookers will boil – if you have an old model, well, do what you normally do), reduce to medium or low, whichever provides the gentlest simmer on yours,** and leave alone for 6 hours or so (stir once about half-time, bringing those at the bottom to the top), until the beans are fully cooked. The veg will float to the top – nothing to be done about that – but they’ll still impart their flavour to the beans and the stock.
**On mine High is a fairly brisk boil, Medium rather less so, and Low simmers.
When cooked, remove the crock with its contents (use oven gloves), and set it on the floor to cool (a cold, stone or tiled, floor is best). If all you have is carpet (yep, some folk carpet kitchens, god knows why), then just leave the crock on the worktop or the cold stove
When cold, tip into a colander set over a deep pan or a bowl, fishing out and discarding the veg as you go, and leave to drain.
The 600g of beans yielded 1.5kg of cooked beans – approximately 6 cans worth or 2 pots of soup.
In terms of cost, 6 cans are £4.80 to £5.40 (full price depending on where I buy them), but they’re sometimes on offer. The organic dried beans cost me £2.08 for 600g, plus a little for postage (part of a larger order), and a few coppers for the veg, and whatever my slow cooker costs to run (about a tenth of the cooker’s hotplate power consumption). So I’m sure there’s a saving in terms of hard cash – I just don’t know what it is – but there is quite definitely a bonus in terms of flavour and quality (I’ve been finding a lot of hard beans in Napolina cans of late – if I want hard beans I can by supermarket OB at half the price!).
The beans have been split into two portions and are now in the freezer (soaked but uncooked beans also freeze well), and the 0.8 of a litre of stock will shortly follow them, also in two portions, to give a boost to two future pots of soup.
Pinto beans yield a muddy pink stock, but what the hell, it’s the taste that matters.
The downside of all this? A sink full of washing up. Sod it, it can wait!