Two Basic Questions for the Cooks

Please help this slightly mediocre cook!

  1. Cooking beans: Twice I’ve made a soup (one with split peas, one with cannellini beans) where most of the beans are cooked and soft, but invariably in each mouhful, there are some beans that aren’t done. They’re not crunchy but rather crumbly. I tried cooking per recipe directions and even cooking ten or more minutes than recommended and still I get crumbly beans. I don’t get it. Why do 90% of the beans cook all right but the rest don’t? What can I do to prevent this?

  2. Vinegar: Um. I’ve seen recipes call for “vinegar” without distinguishing which kind. At the store there are a dizzying array of vinegar, from white wine to apple cider. Which is the default vinegar? Which one should I use when the recipe doesn’t specify?

Without knowing the recipes involved, the problem with the legumes sounds like it’s due to a lack of soaking. Pre-soaking for a few hours or overnight ensures that the beans are at a uniform state of readiness (and helps break down some of the sugars and fibre that cause flatulence).
Try soaking for about two hours in warm water and see if this helps. Cooking longer is not usually recommended, as this can cause them to become overly mushy.

As for the second, it depends on the recipe (although any one that just calls for “vinegar” is likely to be suspect.
Generally speaking, vinegar has a distinctive taste, but individual vinegars taste very different. Try dipping a bit of bread or cracker in
1)white vinegar
2)apple cider vinegar
3)red wine vinegar
4)balsamic vinegar
and seeing the difference in taste. If it’s being used to further a chemical reaction, it’s being heated, or as a preservative, then feel free to use white or cider vinegars interchangeably. If, however, it’s for a dressing, marinade, or sauce, then I’d suggest one of the more delicate vinegars, like red wine with herbs, or balsamic. True balsamic sauce (NOT vinegar) goes for about two hundred bucks an ounce and is dispensed with an eyedropper onto Parmigiano or strawberries (sounds weird, but it’s good).

I disagree. White vinegar and cider vinegar aren’t interchangable. For one thing, cider vinegar has a noticeable color that would be unwelcome in some recipes. If the type of vinegar isn’t specified, assume white vinegar.

and aceto balsamico is indeed a vinegar, albeit a really special one with a flavor unlike any other vinegar - softer and much less sharp-tasting. the thick consistency of the oldest balsamic vinegars comes from their long aging in wooden barrels, which concentrates the vinegar. It’s good over parmigiano reggiano and strawberries, as FG mentioned; the lower-priced product is a wonderful marinade and is also good in salad dressings.

As for the beans, if you aren’t soaking them overnight by all means do so. Also, a rule of thumb I’ve discovered is that if you want creamy, cooked-down beans, simmer them covered; if you want the beans to remain whole, simmer them uncovered.

From “Cook’s Illustrated” on cooking beans:

I’ve tried this, and it works for me. If your cooking technique works overall, and you’re just getting a few undercooked beans, I’d try cooking 'em in more water.

I agree with Chef Troy on the vinegar thing - if it’s not specified, use plain 'ol white vinegar. If you want to get fancy, you can try experimenting with other kinds.

Naturally, they’re differently coloured, but I find that white vinegar has a sharper, more astringent taste, whereas cider vinegar is more mellow. Color aside, I prefer cider vinegar, especially in salad dressings and the like.

And Chef Troy, you’re absolutely right on the creamy bean question. I like to use the crockpot for my black beans, and experimented with covering it and leaving it uncovered. Covered you got lovely soft fall-apart shreds of pork and soft beans, whereas uncovered the cooking liquid evaporates nicely and thickens and you get that translucent ooze of bean cream…MMM, bean cream…

I usually cook my black beans uncovered, then ladle some of them out and mash them with a potato masher, then return them to the pot to release starch and thicken them.

My recipe is about two-thirds of the way down this page about a DFW straight dope get-together during the holidays.

I don’t have anything to add to the bean theme, but I second (or third) the recommendation of cider vinegar as the most versatile. White vinegar has an acid taste and not much else. It’s best for pickling when you don’t want the vinegar to overpower the taste of the vegetables and spices.

Other good all-purpose vinegars are rice vinegar and white wine vinegar.

Thankyou Thankyou!

I’ll keep all these tips in mind.

I think that pre-soaking might not make a difference in terms of preventing crumbly beans. I soaked the cannellini beans overnight and still they came out crumbly. :frowning: The soup otherwise tastes all right but it’s not what I was hoping for. Next time, I’ll add more water and some salt and see if I get better results.

If you’re at a high altitude, you’ll need to add extra water and significantly lengthen the cooking time for beans. I’ve had problems when I used old beans, too - they just never get soft. If your beans/peas have been sitting in the pantry for a year, that might contribute to the problem. If you still have the problem, you might try using a pressure cooker. Other than that, I have nothing to add to the excellent advice above.

I’ll just chime in with the fact that if you are adding any tomato products to your beans, don’t expect them to cook completely ever. Acids stop the cooking process in legumes. Here is a recipe for Mexican style frijoles:

[li]Mexican Style Beans[/li]Chili Beans
[sup]Submitted by Zenster[/sup]