I recently had an experience of trying to make chili for my friends. It turned out the beans I had were probably quite old and they were very resistant to softening. I know that beans are often kept from softening if you add salt or acid (tomato, lemon) too early. It’s best to cook beans without seasoning other than things like garlic and herbs (like rosemary) that don’t inhibit softening and still add a bit of flavor. Most of the time, I cook beans on their own or just with garlic.
I did this with the beans for my chili. After almost two hours, they were sort of soft, but not like you would want from chili. I was frustrated. I read some solutions that I could have used if I had realized my beans were old, but at this point, I was too far in. I’d been cooking my beans with the veggies (onion, carrot, peppers) and meat that would be part of my chili, so I no longer had the option of using these “tricks” that I found online.
I decided to go “all in” and add in the tomatoes and other seasonings for my chili, transfer the whole mess to my crockpot, and cook on high all afternoon. By the time my friends were there to eat it, my beans were finally al dente enough to serve. I was horrified but my gracious friends ate it happily. I will say, the vegetable-full soup was very tasty. I can make a mean pot of chili in spite of my bean woes.
I recently lost my mind a bit and ordered a bunch of dried beans. I was sure the “old beans” I had used in my chili was the last of the old beans in my house. Wrong. As I cleared off a tall shelf to make room for the new beans, I found more old beans. One was a pound or Rio Zape beans which are great for chili. I decided to assume they were old and would be problematic so I decided to use one of the tricks before I got started.
I soaked the beans overnight so they could start to rehydrate.
The next day I drained them and put them into a large pot with plenty of water. The online trick said that for one pound of beans to add ¼ t. baking soda and then to cook as usual. That’s what I did. I brought them to a boil. The baking soda started to foam up. Rather than skimming it off, I stirred it back in to make sure the baking soda had a chance to work on my beans. I reduced the water to simmer and let them cook for about 45 minutes. Once done, I drained off the cooking water and put them into a container in the refrigerator to cool until the next day when I made my chili. I tested them and they were tender so I knew I was going to have good results the next day making chili. No more stress.
I had my oven on that night making banana-chocolate chip muffins. Since it was already warm, I put in a winter squash to roast so I could use it in my chili. We had a small >> squash so I cut in half and put each half cut side down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and into a 400 degree oven for an hour. When they came out, I turned them over so the steam could be released and they’d cool enough for me to scoop out the flesh. After about 30 minutes, I was able to easily scoop out the lovely orange flesh of the squash and put it into the refrigerator until the next day along with the beans.
Like so many things, I also have a No Recipe Chili recipe. The basics:
- At least a pound of ground meat of your choice
- One pound of beans, cooked until mostly tender — could be a couple of cans of cooked beans if that’s easier, rinsed and drained
- Onions and garlic, chopped
- Basic veggies you like: carrot, peppers, jalapeno, etc.
- Other veggies you like: precooked winter squash, chopped zucchini, corn or whatever you like or have on hand
- Salt and pepper
- Cumin (2 tablespoons or more) and chili powder (2-5 tablespoons)
- If you like it, thyme or oregano (maybe 1-2 teaspoons)
- If you like it spicy, add other chili like cayenne or smoky/spicy with chipotle
- 2-3 cans of tomatoes or tomato sauce or a combination of the two
Since I decided to make it in the crockpot, it’s pretty easy. It’s mostly chop and dump into the crockpot. This time I had one green pepper, one red pepper, a small jalapeno, and garlic. I chopped the onion and put half with the other veggies and set half aside. I like carrot for the sweetness it adds so I added in two small carrots, chopped. I knew I’d be adding sweetness with the cooked winter squash as well so I decided to go “all in” with this flavor profile. Plus, this time I was cooking for myself, so I went toward the profile I knew I’d like best.
In a small pan, I sautéed the meat and the other half of the onion. I like adding the onion because it helps to soak up some of the oil from the hamburger and I like the flavor. I start by adding a bit of salt (Lawry’s seasoned salt if I have it, but I don’t always have it) and browning the meat and onion. Once it’s mostly cooked, I add in the cumin and chili powder, both of which bloom by cooking in fat or oil. As a result, the meat mixture is very highly seasoned. Too seasoned. It doesn’t matter because it all goes into the crockpot to eventually season the whole mixture. I usually add a bit of water to the pan to rinse out the spices and add that to the crockpot – you spent so much time building flavor so you don’t want to lose it and this way nothing goes to waste!
On top of the veggies and meat, I add the cooked beans and squash and give everything a good stir. Finally in goes the tomatoes and just a little water to rinse out the cans. Give it all a good stir and let it go for 8 hours on low.
It was already beautiful and both delicious looking and smelling at this point!
Sometimes I add the extra flavor of these “flavor bombs” I make in the summer. When the bbq is still hot, I grill poblano peppers, onions, tomatillos, or whatever I have and then puree it and then freeze them for flavor when I need it. I had some in the freezer that were roasted pobalanos and onions so I added three to my crockpot. They defrost as the chili cooks and the flavor permeates the chili. It would still be good chili without them, but I love having the extra flavor available.
Most of it went into containers for the freezer for enjoyment in the upcoming months when work is too busy and I don’t have the time to get things like this put together, but it’s also making for some not-sad lunches this week at work.
The best part is the beans were soft, delicious, and didn’t go to waste. I’ve got two other small containers of beans that were also found. I’ll be giving this internet hack another try on them to see if it’s a consistent solution to old beans.
And then I’ll try not to lose my beans any longer in the pantry. My new beans are in the same place so that should help. I hope.