To Soak or Not to Soak?

Food and Drink

Kidney_beans - photo by Sanjay Acharya

My biggest cooking frustration? Waking in the morning to assemble ingredients for the slow cooker, only to find I’ve forgotten to soak the beans overnight.

No problem, Plan B is always the “quick soak,” i.e., boiling the beans for five minutes then covering and leaving to soak for an hour. That is, if you have an hour to spare before leaving for work.

Turns out, there’s no reason to soak beans, at all. Or at least that’s what food editor Russ Parsons contends in a recent LA Times piece. In it Parsons surveys the history of the soaking question, talks with food writers on both sides of the aisle, attempts to put the question to bed with science, and crows that he’s been anti-soak for decades. The article even looks at the question of beans and flatulence!

“That’s wrong,” says my wife, when she asks me about the bag of unsoaked beans among the rest of my ingredients. She recites the main reasons an overnight soak is necessary: cook time, tenderness vs. mushiness, flavor, and, yes, reduced flatulence. I’m not surprised by her recalcitrance in the face of legume reform. Every bit of advice I’ve ever seen, heard, or read sides with my wife.

Yet, here’s Parsons from the LA Times article.

Letting dried beans sit overnight in a bowl of cold water does nothing to improve their flavor or their texture. In fact, it does quite the opposite. . . . Finally, soaking does absolutely nothing to reduce the gas producing properties of beans.

We shall see. I’m dumping the bag of unsoaked pinto beans into my Crockpot, now . . .

Bean Soup with Tamarind and Ginger (7-qt. slow cooker)

1 lbs. dried  pinto beans

0.5 lbs. ham hocks

2 lbs. chicken drums

5-inch piece fresh ginger sliced

1 can tomato, diced 24-oz.

3 med onion, cut in 1/8th’s

6 dried red chile peppers

5 tablespoons tamarind soup base

7 cups stock + 2 cups water

12 cloves garlic, sliced

1 bunch kale or collards

Directions for SEVEN QUART Slow Cooker:

Wash and sort beans.

Place all ingredients (except for greens) into slow cooker.

Switch slow cooker to high until simmering.

Switch to low.

Cut greens into 2-in. strips and add 10 – 20 min. before serving.

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