Beans can be divided into three broad categories:
• Edible pod beans can be eaten fresh seed, pod and all. These beans are often called green or snap beans.
• Fresh-shelled beans are harvested and shelled when their seeds are full-sized but have not yet dried. These beans are sometimes called shellies or shuckies.
• Dried beans are beans whose seeds are dried and shelled after reaching maturity. Before shelling they are often left to mature and then dry on the vine. After shelling, dried beans are usually dried again.
Dried beans are often stored for later use. The seeds of dried beans are sometimes called soup beans because these beans are often soaked in water before cooking.
Many bean varieties that are used fresh-shelled are also used dried.
Beans originated in Southern Mexico and Guatemala and Peru. The cultivation of beans dates to at least 8,000 B.C. There are more than 100 varieties of beans.
Local season. Dried beans are usually harvested in late summer. They are often found for sale at farmers' markets during the winter.
Amount. One cup of dried beans will yield about two cups of cooked beans. Allow ½ to 1 cup of cooked beans per person. Allow 1½ to 2 cups of dried beans for four people.
Choose. Select dried beans that have been recently harvested and dried. Choose dried beans that have a deep color and are glossy. Avoid dried beans that are faded or dry or shriveled looking or that have begun to wrinkle. Avoid cracked and broken beans.
Store. Keep dried beans in a covered container or a plastic bag in a dry place. Dried beans can be stored for long periods, more than a year or two. Beans harvested and dried more recently will cook more quickly, be richer in nutrients, and be most flavorful. Try to use the dried beans you have before stocking up with more.
Cooked dried beans will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 3 months. Store beans in their cooking liquid.
Prepare. Remove unshelled beans from pods; rinse shelled beans. Place dried beans in a pot of water and swish them around. Remove discolored, shriveled, or broken beans as well as pebbles or other debris. Drain and then place beans in a colander and rinse again.
Cook. Cover dried beans with water before cooking, just enough water to cover the beans. Add additional water during cooking as needed. Dried beans also can be cooked in meat or vegetable stock. Recently harvested beans will cook more quickly than beans that have been stored for a long time. Add salt after beans have been cooked, not before otherwise they will become tough.
Nutrition. Beans are rich in vitamins A, B, and C, and also calcium, phosphorus, iron, fiber, and protein.