Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Black beans in the crockpot

I really need to write a separate post on the challenges of cooking at altitude, but for now let me address one specific problem: getting beans fully cooked. This has become a goal of mine, since beans are one of the few foods (tomatoes are the other) I continue to use in canned form and I remain very concerned about bisphenol-A. So I set out this past weekend to make it work.

I tried a crockpot refried bean recipe, but even though I cooked on low for 10 hours, the beans still weren't nearly soft enough and I lost patience. The short version of the problem is that water boils at a lower temperature here and just does not get as hot as I might need.

This time, I set out to give them as long as they needed. I just realized in looking for the refried beans recipe that Stephanie has black bean directions similar to mine, but I actually devised this on my own with some tweaks for the altitude.

I started with 1 1/2 pounds of dried beans from the Whole Foods bulk bins. They cost me just over $2.00 and were organic. I probably could have gotten a cheaper bag for around $1.00 per pound, but this seemed reasonable to me. In the end, I got a little more than 5 ziplocs with about 2 cups of beans. (I mashed up the extra 1/2 cup or so to make Scooter's black bean quesadilla.) Given that a can would usually cost me a little under $1.00, this was a good return.

The "recipe" itself is very straightforward. I started around noon, specifically so I could leave the beans overnight. I used my old 4-quart; the beans nearly filled it, but something about the cylinder shape struck me as better suited than my oval 6-quart. (By the way, I have absolutely no idea if there's any truth to that and I suspect that larger batches would be fine in the 6-quart.)
  1. Rinse beans and discard those that don't look right. The batch I had were really good and so I didn't have to discard many.
  2. Place beans in crockpot and cover with water. Let soak for 6-8 hours.
  3. Drain water, which will be dark. Add new water to a couple inches above the beans.
  4. Turn beans up to high. Most recipes I've seen keep the heat at low, but I think this was key for getting the beans up to a high enough temperature at altitude. I probably did this around 6 or 7 pm.
  5. Before bed, check water level and add some more if needed. Turn crockpot down to low. Go to bed. I did this around 10:30 pm.
  6. First thing in the morning, check beans again. This was 6:15 am for me. Add more water if needed--I didn't need to. I also turned the temperature back up again.
  7. At about 9 am, I turned the crockpot off and took the lid off to let the beans cool a bit.
  8. To speed the process of preparing the beans for freezing, I dipped some out, trying not to get too much liquid with them, into a mixing bowl so they'd be spread out a little more. Once they were cool enough, I put just under 2 cups into each freezer bag.
So the process takes nearly 24 hours, but there's not a lot of hands-on time. The biggest issue was making sure I planned it for when I'd be around at the critical times (we sometimes spend the night at my in-laws' on the weekend) and when I hadn't already planned another use for the crockpot or the counter space where we set it up.

I've also got white, kidney, and garbanzo beans in the pantry, so you can bet I'll be doing this again. Just not tomorrow, as I'll be using some of my black beans in a delicious tamale pie.


Lisa b said...

mm tamale pie!
I am a bad cook at any altitude. Everytime I try to rehydrate beans my kid hates them and I end up opening a can after 12+ hours of work.

Lisa b said...

mm tamale pie!
I am a bad cook at any altitude. Everytime I try to rehydrate beans my kid hates them and I end up opening a can after 12+ hours of work.

Aliki2006 said...

I tried to make a vegetarian Boston baked bean recipe in my crock pot months ago and it was awful. The beans simply would not cook and hours later they got hard like pebbles and shriveled up. It was very traumatic. Since then I've been afraid to try cooking dried beans in my crockpot--but maybe I'll give this one a go!