Somewhere on that unwritten list of things everyone should know how to do is making a pot of brothy beans from scratch. Legumes are one of the most economical plant-based sources of protein, especially when purchased dried instead of in cans. I'm all for keeping a stash of assorted canned beans in the pantry for those times when you need a quick meal or snack. However, I also stock plenty of dried legumes to use when I have a bit more time or choose to use a slow cooker or an instant pot.
A pot of brothy beans is an original comfort food. They're so easy to make and truly warming when winter feels endless. Everyone should know how to make a good pot of brothy beans, and these Brothy Navy Beans are just the place to start!
Confession time. I've never actually used Navy beans to make brothy beans until now. Navy beans earned their name for their popularity as an important staple to the U.S. Navy in the early 20th century. I thought the only use for Navy beans was plunking them into molasses, dried mustard and fatback to make pork 'n beans or Boston baked beans. I wanted yellow-eyed beans or cannellini beans... even pinto beans would make delicious brothy beans, but the only dried beans I had left were Navy beans. Would I even recognize Navy beans if they weren't swimming in a sugary sauce?
I won't leave you hanging... they are AMAZING without all that jazz. Pork 'n beans were always in the rotation on my mamas menus so their flavor is unmistakable. If you've never tasted Navy beans outside of baked beans or pork 'n beans you are in for simple deliciousness! The true bean flavor of Navy beans is fantastic and doesn't need a lot of fuss.
Let's get goin'!
To soak or not to soak... how long, and how many times do I need to change the water? And what about that pinch of baking soda? You'll likely find different answers to all of these questions. I'll tell you what I do and why.
As much as possible I like to plan ahead and soak dried beans for at least 12-24 hours with several changes of fresh warm water. The primary reason for this is to initiate the sprouting process which both reduces cooking time and the amount of so-called anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid, tannins, lectins, protease inhibitors and calcium oxalate. Soaking and discarding the soaking water also increases mineral bioavailability. Only small amounts of nutrients are lost in the process of soaking beans and discarding the water. In fact, some nutrients like fiber, calcium and thiamin (vitamin B1) are increased after soaking.
However, more recent research conducted on Canadian pulses showed only a slight reduction of phytic acid after soaking and a slightly more significant reduction in certain types of legumes (red kidney, pinto, navy and black beans) after cooking. Yet soaking markedly decreased total and soluble oxalates and lectins, and cooking soaked beans reduced these levels even further.
I wrote about phytic acid in this Broad Beans and Sautéed Greens recipe so won't repeat here. According to this research study, adding a small amount (1/16 tsp/qt of water) of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the soaking water will reduce the content of raffinose, a complex carbohydrate that is poorly digested due to a lack of the enzyme galactosidase, thereby reducing flatulence in those who may not be exposed to raffinose frequently enough. Likewise, Guy Crosby, PhD, CFS, editor for America’s Test Kitchen, co-author of The Science of Good Cooking, and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says adding 1 tsp. of baking soda per cup of dried beans to the cooking water will significantly reduce cooking time and produce creamier beans with their skins intact (instead of busted open). You can read about Crosby's bean-y advice here.
I can't comment on the use of sodium bicarbonate because I always forget to use it, although it makes scientific sense why this would work. If you've tried this, comment below... I'd love to hear your results!
Here's a great chart from The Bean Institute on the nutrient comparison of common dried beans. Navy beans top the chart for dietary fiber.
Graphic: The Bean Institute
Enough science... we've got Brothy Navy Beans to make!
Total Time: up to 26 hours Prep Time: 5 minutes Soaking Time: 12-24 hours Cooking Time: ~ 2 hours (stovetop)
Here's what you'll need for 6 servings:
• 1 lb dried Navy beans
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 3 bay leaves
• 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tsp rubbed sage
• 1 tsp smoked or regular sea salt
• 2 tsp dried fennel seeds
• 1 tsp dried oregano, marjoram, winter savory or thyme
• fresh sage, fried until crisp for garnish (optional)
There are MANY herbs and seasonings that can be used here, but this combination is one of my favorites to use for white beans. I also think Navy beans are delicious with just salt and pepper. Feel free to explore!
1. Place beans in a colander, pick through, discarding any debris. Rinse thoroughly.
2. Add rinsed beans to a pot and cover 2" above the surface with cool water. Cover and allow to soak for 12-24 hours, changing the water 2-3 times in between. You may choose to use a pinch of baking soda as noted above.
3. When beans have been rinsed a final time, heat a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed large pot over medium heat. When pot is hot, add diced onion, spread evenly over bottom of pot. Don't disturb for 2-3 minutes. This allows the onions to begin caramelization without the use of oil. Stir once or twice until browned. They may begin to stick to the bottom slightly, but this is okay.
4. Add the drained beans and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Scrape up any stuck-on bits from the bottom of the pot.
5. Add the spices (including baking soda as mentioned above if you'd like to try this). Turn heat to high just until the beans begin to boil, then reduce to low. Simmer covered until beans are tender, 60-90 minutes. You may need to add additional water.
6. Start testing a few beans after an hour. If beans are too brothy, remove lid for the final 30 minutes of cooking.
Serve piping hot with crusty sourdough bread, a winter greens salad, Pumpkin Risotto cakes or an assortment of fermented vegetables.
Some additional add-ins for white beans:
• a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and/or lemon zest
• a dollop of your favorite pesto (sage, arugula or garlic scape pestos are fabulous!)
• a drizzle of Zhoug (spicy jalapeno cilantro sauce)
• a spoonful of Italian salsa verde
Nutrition information is for 1 1/3 cup of brothy Navy beans.
Be sure to show me what you make! Tag me #chefcatherinebrown - I LOVE seeing what you make!
DISCLOSURES: None. This post was not created in affiliation with any product or brand. The opinions expressed are my own. I will only write about products I use and trust.
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