In This Small Kitchen: Soaking Beans and Grains

Posted by on Friday Apr 4th, 2014 | Print

Once, when I was living in France, a friend’s French boyfriend looked at me and said, “you’re a hippie, right?”

It was so weird, because while there have been Birkenstock phases in my life, my, er, French period was more a time of fitted black outfits and mascara than brown rice and lentils. (As it went, the French guy turned out to have used my curly blond hair as a window to my soul.)

Of course, as health and wellness have become de rigueur, granola crunchy has morphed into granola chic. Case in point, the extreme non-crunchiness of this delicious recipe which features kale, hemp seeds, and flax oil.

That means my jars filled with beans are hip, not hippie, as is a practice I’ve taken on: soaking my beans and grains before I eat them.

I mentioned soaking lentils as a timesaver in this Curried Lentil Soup recipe. And soaking does reduce cooking time–brown rice takes a mere half hour, and bean cooking gets whittled from several hours to just one (or even less). Pouring water over your beans or grains before you leave for work hardly counts as prepwork, but it’s a simple move to make dinner that night happen more quickly. As I learned from Michael Pollan and Isa Chandra Moskowitz, soaking also has nutritional benefits, as soaked grains can more easily convey minerals and vitamins to you. If you don’t get a chance to cook your soaked food when you intended, no worries! Just cook it the next day–for an even shorter period.

Here are a few ideas to get started soaking:

  • Your Morning Oatmeal. I always soak my oatmeal overnight. I find a noticeable difference in how long the bowl of oats keeps me full when it’s been soaked (til a late lunch!) versus not soaked (til 10am!). I stir in a couple teaspoons of yogurt, too, which helps break down the grains, making them even more digestible. I heat my oatmeal in the microwave, but you don’t have to.
  • Your Mixed Grains Bowls. Combine your favorite combination of grains and beans and pour water over in the morning. When you go to cook, you can use about 25% less water than you’d ordinarily use, and cut cooking time by about the same amount. I recently soaked 1 cup of brown rice, 2 tablespoons of pearl barley, and 1/4 cup brown lentils all day, then boiled them with 2 cups of water for 30 minutes. The amount of water and cooking time will depend on how long you soaked, so you’ll have to experiment with doneness–or try cooking them like pasta, which will give you more control.
  • Your Chicken Chili. This recipe for Healthy Chicken Chili is an all-time favorite. When I made it recently, I soaked the barley and about 3/4 cups of Rancho Gordo pintos overnight before adding them both where the recipe says to add the barley. I used only 4 cups of water instead of 5. Dinner simmered for just 30 minutes–and was incredibly delicious.

Have you ever soaked beans or grains? Are you interested in hearing more about it?

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  • Anne H

    Yes I’d really like to know more specifics about the morning oatmeal and mixed grains bowls. Are you using steel cut oats? Did you add any veggies to the mixed bean bowl? These are my favorite kinds of foods and I’m so glad you are covering them. Thanks!

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      I usually use old-fashioned rolled oats, but you could certainly use steel cut and then cook stovetop if that’s what you normally do (I just use the microwave). For beans and grains, I throw anything on top! I just made a bowl with roasted eggplant + pine nuts + raisins I’ll be posting about soon. This bowl with sautéed scallions and radishes is a spring favorite: http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/2013/06/mixed-grains-bowl-with-scallions-and-sauteed-radishes.html

  • Yael

    When you soak your oatmeal overnight, do you leave it in the fridge? Can you do this with instant?

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      I leave it on the counter. I tend to use old-fashioned rolled oats (rather than either instant or steel cut). I bet you could do this with instant though!