Native to the Americas, kidney beans are so called because of their shape and come in very many sizes and colours, from ivory-white to blood-red and black. Although differing a little in flavour and looks, they are often interchangeable in recipes.
Red kidney beans are poisonous if not boiled furiously for 20 minutes during their initial cooking. The problem with kidney beans of all colours is that they cause wind. This can be lessened in two ways: first, by introducing kidney beans meagrely and slowly into your diet, then eating them regularly (the gut will eventually adjust and not react badly). The other preventive is equally important; dried kidney beans must be soaked to hydrate them before cooking. The secret is never, ever, to cook them in the water in which they have been soaked but to drain and then to rinse them well before putting into fresh water. The soaking water has absorbed much of the ingredient that upsets the gut.
Canned pre-cooked beans are often more easily available than dried varieties. These are a very good choice for cooking with, saving hours of care, but should always be drained and rinsed before use.
Choose the best
Dried kidney beans of all kinds should be whole and shiny. Long storage makes them prone to insect intrusion, so if buying in bulk inspect carefully. Pre-packed dried beans are usually more reliable.
Canned pre-cooked kidney beans present no problems. Some come packed in water, which is thickened by starches naturally produced by the beans, but it can also contain preservatives, so this should be rinsed away.
Dried beans last for years if kept in a dry, dark place, safe from pests. Canned cooked beans last as long and should be a basic in every storecupboard.
Dried beans should be soaked overnight. If you don’t have much time, start them in hot water and then four to five hours should be enough. Throw away the soaking water (see introduction) when the beans are plump and slightly softer and the skins are no longer wrinkled. Rinse them well. They must be cooked in water – without salt – before adding to any other dish, even for recipes such as baked beans or stews with tomato and especially, salty bacon. Only then do they get the additional slow cooking that allows them to absorb other flavours. It’s common in some dishes to cook them until they disintegrate, making a thicker, emulsified sauce.
Canned beans can be drained, rinsed and then used at once with other ingredients, including salt, immediately.
All kidney beans once cooked can be enjoyed cold in salads or made into purées with the addition of oil and served as a dip. Red kidney beans are often associated with chilli con carne.
See our step-by-step guide on how to make chilli con carne.