Taking stock

Faking it with bean broth

February 1, 2008

When I started dating a vegetarian, my friends and family were worried. They figured I would find something to eat, but how would I, a chef who loved rich flavors, cope without beef in my ragù and no chicken in my noodle soup?

I was a little concerned, too. I didn’t give up meat, even after my partner and I decided to live together, but I knew I’d be eating vegetarian most of the time. Sure, I loved my mate’s homemade pizzas and veggie burgers, but eventually I would need the depth of flavor that meat gave my cooking.

I found what I was looking for in a pot of pinto beans.

Canned beans taste tinny and mushy to me, so every two weeks, I cook a large batch of pinto beans and freeze containers of them to use in soups, pasta dishes, and Mexican meals. I always have cooking liquid left over, and when I began regularly cooking beans, I felt guilty throwing the liquid away.

Use a variety of beans for rich, flavorful stocks.

One day, after I had been craving my Italian mother’s ragù and wondering how I could enrich meatless sauce, I decided to add some cooking liquid from pinto beans to my marinara sauce. Viscous and flavorful but not overpowering, it thickened the sauce and added just the fullness I wanted. I started freezing bean broth, too, substituting it for water in stews and chili.

The vegetarian and I stayed together, and I continued cooking beans. The summer that I grew sorrel, a tart green, I prepared navy-bean soup finished with a sorrel chiffonade. As the beans I had cooked for the soup cooled, I noticed their beautiful, clear stock. I had been dissatisfied with bland vegetarian stocks; this navy-bean broth, I knew, would be a rich base for the clear vegetarian stock I needed for risotto, gravy, and sauces.

I never fuss over bean stocks. I salt the beans, unless they will be mashed for a recipe. In that case, I simmer the beans without salt, knowing that I can season them later and have more control over the amount of salt I add to recipes requiring the bean stock.

I use broth from pinto, red, kidney, and black beans straight from the pot, saving these darker liquids for stews, chili, and tomato sauce. Black-bean cooking liquid makes a brown tomato sauce whose color reminds me of the meat sauce some Italian-Americans call “gravy.” When I prepare stocks using cooking liquid from white beans, I choose garbanzo or navy beans; they are always available at the local supermarket. Sometimes I add carrots, onions, celery, parsley, and bay leaves directly to the water in which I cook the beans.

For more intensely flavored stock, I drain the unseasoned cooking liquid, then simmer it with carrots, celery, onions, and herbs. Occasionally, I roast the vegetables or add a few dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms. Sometimes I simply use the liquid in place of the water called for in a vegetarian recipe from one of my cookbooks. If my white-bean stock seems too sweet, I add a dash of vinegar or lemon juice.

After 21 years, I’m still with the vegetarian, but thanks to my bean stock, his pizza tastes much better.

Liz Biro writes about food from Hubert, North Carolina.

There are 11 comments on this item
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1. by artistalanna on Feb 1, 2008 at 2:36 PM PST

Thanks for this tip!!! My husband and I have a new roommate who is a vegetarian, so we are really trying to be able to create meals that all three of us can eat. This sounds like an excellent idea!!!

2. by Ellen on Feb 4, 2008 at 7:55 AM PST

I always thought that the cooking liquid was where a lot of the gas-producing sugars were after the cooking process. I know that most cookbooks caution you to drain and rinse the soaking liquid prior to cooking because of the flatulence factor. I’ll have to give bean broth a try.

3. by Jill McKeever on Mar 13, 2008 at 4:43 AM PDT

This is GREAT!
I’ve always felt bad pouring out the extra bean broth, too. (I tend to cook beans in more water than needed.)
Wow, this is really good information. I’m in a spot of life where I’m changing my cooking habits. Exploring broths and legumes, home cooked and store bought, are my focus right now.
This article comes at a great time.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with the rest of us.

4. by Lucky Luc on Apr 3, 2008 at 1:45 PM PDT

I need to know what the carbs, fat and calories are for the bean liquid that is leftover after I crock pot my pinto beans. I can’t find that info anywhere. I hope you can help me. I only use spices like onion slat, garlic, etc. Thanks a million.

5. by Jill McKeever on Jun 27, 2008 at 12:17 PM PDT

Hi Lucky Luc!

I’m right there with you. I’ve been searching for nutritional facts calculators to analyze the recipes I write about on my food blog. I haven’t found the perfect one, yet, but I have found a couple of decent set ups.

Both of these sites require that you register for free before using the calculator.

There’s a membership site called RecipeZaar that has a great calculator that would fit your needs. However, the only way to access it is by becoming a member for $24? for a one yr subscription. It’s actually a fair price, when you see the amount of recipes it contains and how members organize, create and share their content.

6. by Liz Biro on Apr 9, 2008 at 5:40 PM PDT

Amazingly, someone did a study on the nutritive value of bean broth. So if you’re super curious:
“Nutritive composition of broth from selected bean varieties cooked for various periods”
Lyimo, M.; Mugula, J.; Elias, T. Título
Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture
58(4):535-539. 1992.

I’ve not suffered from gas-producing sugars in bean broth, but the USDA has looked at flatulence levels in beans. Find out more by searching “flatulence beans” at link text

7. by Liz Biro on Jun 27, 2008 at 12:16 PM PDT

Ooops! Not “link text” but U.S. Department of Agriculture

8. by Jill McKeever on Apr 9, 2008 at 6:24 PM PDT

That’s really funny, Liz! Hey, we’ve got the song.
What more do we need to know about flatulence levels?

Everybody - “Bean, beans, the musical fruit.
The MORE you eat, the more you.....”

9. by anonymous on Feb 5, 2009 at 7:52 PM PST

If you’re making refried beans, I find it’s absolutely the best idea to include the broth from the first cooking. It fries down into a nice creamy texture, especially once you mash some of the beans.

10. by Charlie W on May 5, 2013 at 9:34 AM PDT

While I am by no means a vegetarian, I too was tiring of the canned bean gig. Last weekend I made a large pot of great northerns. The broth looked to good to toss, so I pitchered it in the back corner of the fridge. Googled “soup made from bean broth” today and this post came up. Very helpful tips. And I concur - the soup I just made is delicious.

- Mirepoix (w/ olive oil base)
- Extra carrots, diced sauteed
- Strained white bean broth
- trimmed asparagus stalks, diced fine
- diced chives
- nice Egg Noodles (like I said, I’m not a veg...)
- frozen peas

Seasoned w/ salt, oregano, white pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes.

11. by Keith on Apr 17, 2014 at 2:30 AM PDT

I practically live off of beans and a complementary essential protein source(rice, seeds, other grains, and non-gmo corn), but I’ll eat poultry or seafood usually once a week. I think all vegetation has gas producing parts. As I’m not overweight at all, all the air escapes silently, so it’s not much to worry about. I cook beans in their soaking water and my bean stock always gels. It’s the gel, actually the pectin that causes the gelling, that is the gas producer in the bean stock. If you lower salt levels and use flavorful amounts of spices, you will develop nice and healthy gut flora, that is in tune to what you eat. And when it’s healthy down there, you’ll stay healthier. Horrible smelling gas is a sign of bad flora, ones that have to deal with a slow digestive system. But with healthy gas, people might think they are smelling a restaurant nearby or simply that something smells good. I like to think of things as, when the wind is blowing I’m getting extra energy, when the wind stops a number two is on the way.

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