Slow Cookers

I use a "slow cooker." During the past several years I have noticed that these have been on sale in department stores, discount chains, Woolworths, and other retail outlets - at very, very low (almost marginal) prices.

Wash the beans.

Rinse the beans. (The water is great for watering your plants.)

Drop the beans into your slow cooker. (Obviously you don't want to add fill more than 1/3 of the well with dried beans.)

Fill the rest of the well with water. (Leave about 1/2" to 1" on top.)

Cover the top with the provided top.

Turn on the heat to HIGH for about an hour, then turn it down to low.

(My preference is 2 hours on medium, then the rest of the night OR day on simmer.)

If this is done in the morning, turn the slow cooker to low before leaving for work for 9-10 hours. Come home to a hot and delicious pot of beans. BEAN SUPPERS AT THE CHURCH NEVER TASTED THIS GOOD AS FRESH BEANS.

If this is done before retiring for rest at night, turn the slow cooker to low before "turning in" for the day/night and sleeping for a good 7-9 hours. Wake to the luscious aroma of delicious scrumptious, aromatic BEANS, beautiful BEANS. BEAN BREAKFASTS CAN BE JUST AS GOOD AS BEAN SUPPERS.

Bon Appetit!

There is a very easy way to make good beans from dried. You should still soak them overnight (and BTW, pour off the soaking water to make them more digestible); then put them into any crockpot, cover them with water and cook like any other crockpot dish. That is, on LOW overnight or all day while you're at work; or on HIGH for a hour or so and then on LOW 6 or so hours; or on HIGH til tender (4 or more hours?) if you're late putting them on to cook. You can add any seasonings you want (and stir well) before turning them on to cook. Hours later, just take them out and they are ready to serve! (If yours aren't tender enough, try not adding any salt until near the end of cooking, but I haven't found this a problem.)

This is the most amount of food I can make, and with the least amount of work. For some people a pressure cooker might seem a bit specialized, and I don't know, perhaps some are expensive (I don't have one so can't comment). But IMO a crockpot is a priceless investment. They don't cost much and you can cook half of what you eat in one. Besides beans (and we are into a lot of beans) I make soups, stews, spaghetti sauce and hummus. I have a fair number of pots and pans now but I think if I had to I could get by with only two: a crockpot and a wok. Between them I can do most anything I want.

A crockpot also lets you make up freezable food in big batches. I make a full pot of all of the above things and have 3+ quarts to freeze. They all taste good thawed and go a long way. Another bonus is that often beans that were covered with water may now have surplus juice (what I grew up calling "pot liquor" in the South). You can dip out this juice for wonderful stocks. Plain red bean stock (see below) is an ideal substitute for "beef broth" when you see that in a recipe. Garbanzo (chickpea) stock (you get it when you cook garbanzos for hummus) is a really good base for general vegetable soups--sweet and nutty but not overpowering. Try dipping out "pot liquor" and pour it into ice-cube trays; freeze, put the cubes into storage bags in freezer, and you have instant "stock cubes" so you can take out a little or a lot for a recipe and the rest doesn't go bad.

One thing you can do with beans is make burrito filling. This is so simple it does itself. Take 4 cups of dried red or pink beans and soak overnight or all day. Put them into a 3 1/2 quart crockpot with 2 cloves of garlic, minced, and 4 tsp salt. Cover with water, stir, turn on LOW all day or overnight, and that's it! You can decide whether you want to keep them whole or mush them in a food processor for the kind of paste you get iin commercial burritos, etc. Either way, when you are in a hurry you can take them and a tortilla out of the fridge, heat them up and wrap the beans in the tortilla, and you have instant lunch (as well as complete protein). They are very basic, savory not spicy, so pretty versatile. I have a couple of other crockpot bean recipes I like (for spicy red beans, one black bean recipe and hummus) but I can't access them now so I'll have to forward those later.

One thing about crockpot cooking. It uses very low heat which escapes when you lift the lid to taste the recipe, and this takes a couple of hours to recover. So unless you want to spend a week cooking a pot of beans, don't check them often, and if you do have to take off the lid, replace it quickly. Recipes for crockpots are generally designed to avoid this, which is good for the cook because it means you can put something on to cook and walk off for hours. (That's why for me it's "the vegetarian grad student's best friend.")

I agree about canned beans, I think they are nasty. Also you can't control what goes in them, some have lard or gratuitous chemicals.

Lesley Spencer and Brian Lau