Although the microwave can't cook dried beans instantly, it does beat conventional cooking time by about 50%. It also reduces the risk of boil over and scorched pots and means a cool kitchen no matter how torrid the weather. For best results, follow these guidelines.
--To avoid boil over, always use a casserole at least twice the volume of the ingredients put into it. Adding a tablespoon of drippings or margarine, a chunk of bacon or salt pork or a ham bone also helps keep beans from bubbling over.
--Always cover beans with a tight lid to keep them from cooking dry--not plastic food wrap, which will split during long cooking.
--Never salt beans until after they're cooked; it can toughen them.
--Never try to hurry the beans along by keeping the power on HIGH (100%); you'll merely toughen and dry them. Once the bean liquid has come to a boil, reduce the power to MEDIUM (50%) for the duration of cooking so the beans will absorb the liquid slowly and soften.
--Make sure the beans are tender before you take them from the microwave. Although they'll continue to absorb liquid as they stand, they won't become any more tender. If beans aren't tender at the end of the recommended microwaving time (old, super-hydrated beans often take longer to cook), continue to microwave in 5-minute increments, stirring after each.
The following recipe works equally well for the whole family of dried beans with the exception of chick peas, which are too hard to microwave well, and dried whole peas, which tend to burst.
BASIC BOILED DRIED BEANS
1 pound dried beans, sorted
Soaking water plus enough hot water to total 3 cups
1 tablespoon bacon drippings, margarine or oil
Rinse beans. Soak overnight in 1 quart cold water.
Combine beans, soaking water and drippings in 4- to 5-quart casserole. Cover with tight-fitting lid and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 7 to 10 minutes until boiling.
Stir, cover and microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) 35 to 55 minutes, stirring gently every 15 minutes, until beans are tender. (Cannellini and kidney beans cook fastest. Navy, pea, Great Northern, marrowfat, pinto and black beans, slowest.) Let stand, covered, 5 minutes.
Drain, reserving liquid for soup or stew. Season beans to taste with salt and pepper and use in any recipe calling for cooked beans. Makes 6 servings.
Note: Black beans may simply be topped with sour cream, chopped red or yellow onion and minced cilantro.
Variation: For Savory Dried Beans, add small ham, roast beef or lamb bone (or 1/4 pound diced bacon or salt pork) to beans along with 1/2 cup minced yellow onion and 1 minced clove garlic. Microwave as directed, allowing additional 5 minutes on MEDIUM.
OLD-TIME BAKED BEANS
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1/4 pound lean salt pork, cut in 1/4-inch dice
5 to 5 1/2 cups cooked navy or pea beans, drained (reserve liquid)
Bean liquid plus enough water to total 3/4 to 1 cup
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup dark molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Combine onion and salt pork in 4- to 5-quart casserole. Cover with paper towels and microwave on HIGH (100% power) 4 minutes, stirring at half time.
Stir in beans, 3/4 cup bean liquid, brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire, mustard and pepper. Cover with wax paper and microwave on HIGH 9 to 10 minutes, stirring at half time, until gently bubbling.
Reduce power level to MEDIUM (50% power) and microwave, covered, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring carefully at half time, until flavors mellow. Check liquid at half time and add 1/4 cup more if beans seem dry. Stir again, then let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Makes 6 servings.
Note: In ovens of less than 600 watts, increase cooking times about 15%.