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Food Storage Essentials: Fast ideas for fixing dry beans

Dry beans contribute important protein in food storage at an amazingly low price. And they are magic little foods that lower blood cholesterol, if you eat them regularly. Because they take time to prepare, here are some ideas to speed up the cooking time.

Dry beans require pre-soaking to soften them before cooking. They are the most tender when they are soaked overnight. After dinner cleanup, it's simple to sort through them (sometimes the machinery misses the odd rock), and rinse them. Then add them to three times their amount in water and leave them until morning.

When you wake up, you can head for the kitchen briefly, turn beans on high, bringing them to a boil. Add one tablespoon of oil to prevent foaming, which can cause a boil over. Turn heat down, cover, and simmer while the family gets ready for the day, one to one and a half, until beans are tender. Drain them and put them in the fridge, ready for a quick meal at night. These now are like having already cooked canned beans.

If you did not remember to soak them overnight, you can do a quick soak. Sort and rinse beans, put them in three times the water, boil them for 2 minutes, and let them soak for an hour. Then cook them for one to one and a half hours. Beans soaked this way are less tender and produce the most gas, for those not used to eating beans.

For more tender beans than those produced with a quick soak, do what bean companies call a "hot soak," the same as a "quick soak" above, only soak beans four hours instead of one.

Cooking beans by themselves ahead of time speeds up their cooking time. They take longer to soften when cooked with acidic foods, like tomatoes. Save time and fuel, by adding these foods to beans after they are cooked.

Adding a little salt can speed up the cooking time of beans. However, if you are adding canned foods containing salt to beans in a recipe, you can skip adding salt when initially cooking beans.

Draining the soaking/cooking water reduces problems with gas. Add beans to fresh water and other recipe ingredients and spices. Simmer for around 30 minutes to blend flavors for a delicious meal.

It's possible to cook a large batch of beans at once and freeze them in recipe-size amounts. They can be cooked in a crockpot all day to soften/cook them, or be cooked in a pressure cooker following manufacturer directions.

Most people don't realize that after around eight years, beans gradually become harder and harder to hydrate. To soften old beans, add up to a rounded one-fourth teaspoon baking soda per cup of beans to the soaking water. You may have to experiment a little with the amount of soda depending on how old your beans are. Rinse beans thoroughly, add three times the amount water as beans, and simmer for up to two hours to soften them.

If you have stored dry beans, rather than allow them to sit year after year in your basement, explore fast ways to cook them. It's not wise to wait until an emergency to figure out how to use them. With good recipes, beans make economical, nutritious and very delicious meals.