If you're an amateur cook and are finding it tricky to cook kidney beans or chickpeas until they're soft each time, follow these easy tricks to get them right.
Indian cuisine has always resorted to cooking with fresh ingredients or ingredients that need to be prepped ahead of time, in order to get the full flavour of a dish. Recipes that use kidney beans, black eyed peas or chickpeas, among others, usually start off with soaking dried beans overnight or for a minimum of eight hours, before they are cooked to be made fluffy and soft. Since our culture essentially does not have the concept of using canned beans, cooking with dry beans can often be tricky, especially if this is something that you aren’t familiar with or do too often.
Compared to canned beans, which have a one-dimensional flavour, cooking a recipe by prepping dried beans allows you to experience the earthy flavours and starchy sweetness, on being cooked with spices and aromatics. Different types of dried beans come in varying sizes and volume, which means the cook times will differ from bean to bean – although the basic technique remains the same throughout, irrespective of what kind of bean you choose to cook with.
Depending on the characteristic of the beans you’re cooking with, you can decide whether or not a bean variety needs prior soaking or can be cooked with directly. In this case, pulses like whole green moong, black eyed peas or soybeans come with thin skins, that allow moisture to permeate much easily than beans like kidney beans or chickpeas do; in which case, prior soaking is necessary. Rinsing any type of beans three times before soaking or cooking, allows the phytic acid present in them to be washed away considerably, making the beans easier to cook with.
The one thing to know about cooking with beans is that the longer they sit in a packet, on your pantry shelf, they longer they continue to dry; which automatically means that the later you cook with them, the longer they might take to cook. However, soaking hard beans for a minimum of six to eight hours in slightly warm water that has been salted, not just adds flavour but also makes the centre of the beans fluffier once they have been cooked. The one hot tip to remember however, is to completely get rid of the liquid the beans have been soaked in and wash them once thoroughly, before more fresh water is added for cooking them.
If you find yourself with very little time to soak your beans, using the quick-soak method of adding the beans to salted water and bringing them to a roaring boil for a couple of minutes, allows you to cook with them within the hour. Adding aromatics like onions, garlic, coriander stems and ginger to your cooking liquid, is also a great way to ensure more flavour is added to the beans, before you can add them to a bhuna masala or gravy of some sort.
For recipes like soups, hummus or stews, where the beans must be extra soft, leaving them in the pressure cooker for a couple of extra whistles than what you would typically do (anywhere between 7-8), will help in turning them into a mush much easily. To check for doneness, use a fork to poke through or squish a single cooked bean and check if the centre is still coarse or too white, compared to the rest of its body. In that case, adding some more warm water to them and leaving them to pressure cook on a medium heat is usually effective.