Butter beans are a particularly soft and toothsome bean, which when cooked can be used in many delicious recipes. They are a great way of adding low-fat protein to your diet, and can be enjoyed by vegetarians and meat-lovers alike. They are a good source of dietary fibre, and contain many essential amino acids and vitamins.
Like most dried beans, butter beans benefit from a long soaking. Soaking has two purposes: the first is to break down the indigestible carbohydrates which can give rise to indigestion, or “gas” when eaten; the second is to begin the process of rehydrating the beans, so that cooking them takes less time, and so less power. Soaked beans will cook more evenly, without splitting out of their skins.
The process of harvesting and drying beans can leave them “dirty”. There may be contamination from rodents, bacteria and other matter, so giving them a good rinse in two or three changes of water before soaking them is a good idea.
Beans will usually be rehydrated after around five hours, but you can leave them overnight if this is more convenient.
Once you have soaked them, cook them in fresh clean water. Put the soaked beans in a large saucepan with plenty of fresh water. Don’t add salt, because this can lead to tough skins.
If you have a pressure cooker, the beans can be cooked in around 10 minutes. Check your manufacturer’s guidelines for details.
If you are boiling them in the conventional manner, bring them rapidly to the boil, then turn them down to a simmer. Skim off any scum that rises to the top, and let them simmer away for around 50 minutes. Make sure the pot does not boil dry. If you need to add more water, bring it to the boil in a kettle before adding to the pot. Never leave a cooking pot unattended.
After 50 minutes, test the beans for “doneness”. This may be done by inserting the point of a knife into one or two beans, but the best way is to taste them. Take care – the beans will be hot!
The older the beans are, the longer they take to cook, but they are better with a little “bite” left in them, unless your recipe calls for very soft mush, eg for a bean paté.
Taking great care, strain the beans using a colander.
Once they are cooked to your liking, they are ready to eat as they are, or can be incorporated into soups and stews, made into delicious bean paté, vegetarian enchiladas, and many other delicious recipes. The beans can also be successfully frozen in their cooked state, so that they are ready as a store-cupboard item.