On Sunday, I saw that the forecast called for rain on Monday, so I thought I’d make a nice batch of chili to enjoy on our cool rainy day. I got out the dry kidney beans and put them in the crockpot to soak for 12-16 hours. When I soak my beans in the crockpot, I put the crockpot on high for about an hour or so and then turn it off for the remainder of the time. I forget where I learned this technique, but it’s always worked well for me.
On Monday, I rinsed the kidney beans and then boiled them for 10 minutes before tossing a couple of cups in the crockpot. They were still a bit crunchy, but I wasn’t concerned as I had done this with other types of beans in the past, and they softened up nicely by the time the meal was served. I browned up the meat, added the rest of the ingredients and seasonings to the crockpot, set it on high, and waited for a yummy meal to be completed.
When dinner time rolled around, the house smelled so good, and the chili was bubbly hot. Munchkin and I were rather hungry and a bit chilled as we had just come in from caring for the horses. The rain had died down to a drizzle, so we quickly went and completed our chores a little earlier than normal. We decided to go ahead and eat even though we hadn’t heard from Daddy on what time he’d be home from work. (He ended up getting home late, so we didn’t feel too bad about eating earlier than normal.)
As we began eating, I realized that the kidney beans were still a bit crunchy. They hadn’t softened up in the crockpot as I expected. Of course, knowing that raw and undercooked kidney beans can be toxic and cause illness*, I started looking for reasons why the kidney beans could still be crunchy. Part of me was a bit paranoid that I hadn’t completely cooked the kidney beans, and that we’d end up ill.
What I found after looking for some time was that acidic ingredients, like tomatoes, can cause the beans to never soften if they are added prior to the beans being cooked to your desired softness. Hmmm… So, while this hadn’t been an issue with other beans, it was apparently the case with these kidney beans. It’s possible that the beans could have been a little older than the ideal, but the kidney beans that were finished in a crockpot separate from the tomatoes softened up beautifully.
The other thing that I learned, after we had eating our delicious bowls of chili, is that since we’re at high altitude, I need to boil the kidney beans longer than if I were at or below sea level. Water boils faster and at lower temperatures at high altitudes, so the beans need to cook longer. It’s one of those things that I’ve never dealt with before, so now I know. Thankfully, the beans were cooked long enough as no one got sick, but in the future, I’ll be cooking them thoroughly, without the acidic ingredients, prior to tossing them in the chili just to be on the safe side.
*Raw red kidney beans contain a toxic agent called Phytohaemagglutnin. Eating as few as 5 raw kidney beans can cause extreme vomiting and diarrhea within 1-3 hours of eating the kidney beans. Usually, the issue calms down between 3 to 4 hours after initial onset. Under-cooked red kidney beans can actually be more toxic than raw red kidney beans. (See more detailed information at Penn State Extension.)