There's something many people don't know about beans. I've been using all kinds of beans in recipes for years and I didn't know this detail until a few months ago when I told sensei a bean horror story and he mentioned it.

There's a little hole in the end of a bean and it is only through this hole that beans can absorb water. If you soak a bean in water for a few days, it will sprout through the little hole in its end. The rest of the casing doesn't absorb water, so this is why they need to be soaked overnight to speed up the cooking time. And even then, they're still tough little buggers. Unless you use a pressure cooker which will, of course, crush anything put into it with sheer brute force.

I wish I'd known that 30 years ago.

I didn't know how to cook when I left home. We didn't have a kitchen; we had my mother's kitchen. If I tried to cook something, it would irritate the hell out of her, so I stopped trying. When I finally moved into my own apartment, all afire with ideas about doing whatever I wanted to do in my own space, one of the first things I did was to invite some friends to dinner. So what if I couldn't cook? I'd figure it out.

Not having much money, I pondered the menu and came to the conclusion that beans would be a good idea. Not canned beans, but real dried beans so that I would have the satisfaction of saying, "I made this myself." So I went to a health food store and surveyed the selection of beans.

I had not the first clue about beans. We never ate them when I was a kid. I didn't know the difference between a kidney bean and a black-eyed pea, except that they obviously looked different and black eyed peas worked better in a peashooter. Then I spotted soybeans! Aha! I'd read about soy. Soy is good for you!

I bought a big bag of soybeans and took them home. I vaguely recollected having read something about beans and soaking, but these were really, really small beans so I dismissed that notion and set them to boil on the stove in my one aluminium pot. My friends weren't coming for dinner until the next day, so I had lots of time to cook. Or should I say, learn to cook. Three hours later I tossed a hot bean back and forth between my hands, popped it into my mouth and tried to bite into it. Uh oh. I let them continue to boil for another three hours. Repeating the hand-to-hand-to-mouth bean toss, I found they were softer, but still very crunchy, much like plastic pellets.

Hmmm. Maybe this was because beans are supposed to be baked and that's why they call them baked beans?

I drained the beans, put them in a baking pan with some water and a tin of tomato paste (which I opened with a screwdriver and hammer because I didn't have a can opener) and turned the oven up to 350°. They baked the rest of the day.

That night they were still crunchy and I was getting worried, but I didn't want to leave the stove on overnight so I put them in the fridge. The hot pan melted the rack. Bright and early I got up, scraped melted plastic off the bottom of the pan, put the beans in the oven, added some more water and tomato paste and cooked them all day.

When my friends arrived, I had the meal all set out: rice, salad and beans. Crunchy beans. Lots of red, crunchy beans. And they, not wanting to offend me, consumed generous portions.

By the time I went to bed that night, I was experiencing some abdominal twinges and spasming. I woke up the next morning to deep booming sounds and the telephone ringing. Waving my hands to try to uncover some breathable air, I made it to the telephone. My friend's voice on the other end said, "Undercooked soybeans and tomato paste are a lethal combination."

So, always remember: Soak your soy!

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