Beautiful, heirloom dried beans are a completely different vegetable from those in cans. Thanks to our local growers, you can find a wide variety of freshly dried beans in a rainbow of colors — black beans, soybeans, white beans, kidney beans — all raised without chemicals — at our farmers markets and local food co-ops.
Locally grown, freshly dried beans are full-flavored and distinct. They don’t need to be presoaked, just simmered until tender, and the cooking liquid makes a terrific stock later for soup or chili.
Here’s a guide to a few varieties, with serving suggestions. These make wonderful salads, marvelous spreads and dips, beautiful soups and stews. Cook up several different varieties for a multi-bean fiesta.
Store these dried beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. They will keep for several months, but it’s best to use them within a couple of weeks. Dried beans become tougher and less flavorful as they age. Most commercially packaged dried beans are so old they’ve lost their uniqueness and those in cans taste mostly of the salt used in processing. Here’s a guide to a few of the varieties you’ll find at farmers markets and co-ops, with descriptions for best ways to enjoy them.
Black turtle: This small black bean has an especially rich, full flavor. It’s terrific with rice and meat, great in chili and it makes a fabulous salsa.
Cranberry: Sometimes called borlotti. They have an earthy flavor that’s slightly nutty, similar to pinto. Wonderful in bean salads.
Jacob’s Cattle: This plump white-and-red speckled kidney-shaped bean is firm yet plush. It’s perfect for bean salads and soups.
Orca: A gorgeously dappled black-and-white bean with a creamy texture, this is terrific in salads, soups and side dishes.
Great Northern: This is the tiny white bean of the classic cassoulet; it’s silky smooth and best cooked just past al dente.
A few cooking tips
To cook freshly dried beans:
• No reason to soak these beans first. Add water to cover top by two inches, then simmer until they’ve reached the desired texture. (Don’t boil them, as that toughens them.) They’ll cook in about an hour.
• Salt the cooking water as you would pasta. Contrary to most recipes, salt does not toughen the beans.
• Do not add any acid while they’re cooking (including tomatoes). That does tend to toughen them.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.