Red beans are favored by many Southwestern, Caribbean and Cajun cooks for their firmness and smooth texture. Red beans are a good source of soluble dietary fiber and are high in protein. Like most hard dried beans, red beans need to be soaked for several hours before cooking. While soaking red beans overnight in the refrigerator requires some planning, it's a simple process and well worth the effort for their nutritional and culinary benefits.
Reasons for Soaking Red Beans
Soaking does a number of things to improve the cooking time, taste and health benefits of red beans. A good soak cleans the beans and washes off any dirt, pesticides, fertilizers, bacteria, insect larvae or other contaminates that they come in contact with during production. Soaking red beans can cut cooking time by up to 70 percent. A long soaks gives the beans the moisture content they need to cook quickly and evenly without splitting open and losing their nutritional content. The California Dry Bean Board advises that even if you soak beans overnight, they do not leach their nutrient content into the soaking water. Soaking red beans also breaks down their indigestible sugars or oligosaccharides, which reduces gas and flatulence after eating.
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Before soaking red beans, carefully sort through them to remove any beans that have been damaged or are shriveled or rotten. Since moisture can cause beans to sprout, they are not washed before being packaged, so you may have to also sort out small pebbles or debris. Determine how many beans you need for your meal, keeping in mind that the beans will double or even triple in size after soaking. Rinse the beans in a colander under cold water before putting them in a pot of clean water to soak.
To soak the beans, place them in a large non-reactive ceramic, glass or stainless steel bowl or pot. Fill the pot with cold, clean water, covering the beans by 3 or 4 inches. Red beans need to soak for a minimum of four hours, or longer if you live at an altitude above 3,500 feet. If you're soaking them overnight out of convenience, cover the container and put it in the refrigerator. While it is not necessary to put the beans in the refrigerator for shorter soaks, the refrigeration prevents the beans from fermenting or growing sprouts overnight. In the morning, take the beans out of the refrigerator, rinse them under cold water and discard the soaking water. Do not cook beans in the same water used for soaking, since it contains the recently removed dirt, toxins and indigestible sugars.
Soaking red beans overnight in the refrigerator is convenient only if you have the foresight to start preparing a meal the day before you plan to eat it. If you need a quicker soaking method, put the beans in a pot of cool clean water, bring the water to a boil for two to three minutes, cover and remove from the heat and allow the beans to soak in the hot water for one hour. Alternately, you can use canned beans, which do not need to be soaked and require less cooking time than dried beans. Be aware that canned red beans are usually more expensive than their dried counterparts, are often higher in sodium and preservatives and may contain bisphenol A from the packaging.