I’m not sure how something as incredibly simple as cooking beans got the reputation of being nearly impossible, but I plan to do my part in remedying that. Cooking beans is a good skill for anyone’s cooking repertoire, and it’s super easy. Several steps, but super easy.
In this post I’m going to walk you through the steps to prepare dried beans that you can portion out, keep in the freezer, and then pull out and use like canned beans. But first…
Why Bother With Dried Beans?
Canned beans aren’t particularly unhealthy and are cheap enough that it doesn’t always seem “worth it” to use dried. And honestly, I still use canned from time to time in a pinch. But here are the three reasons I’ve chosen to stick with dried beans most of the time:
- It saves a little money
- I can control the taste (yum)
- It is substantially better for the environment
And really, it was the last consideration that did me in. I’m not the greenest person on the planet, but I do think that we should all make small steps toward being more environmentally friendly as we are able. So to do my part in that, as I discover earth-friendly choices that are within my grasp, I try to change.
In the case of beans, I looked at it like this:
- It takes a factory to make cans
- It takes a factory to recycle cans (or worse, a landfill to bury them)
- Factories (see above) emit all kinds of waste
- As do shipping vessels (note: cans are heavier and take up more room than bags)
- Whether cans get thrown away or recycled, more resources are required to haul cans from my house than the alternative (and if I buy in bulk, the impact is reduced even further)
I’m sure there is much more to consider, and perhaps some of that is faulty reasoning, but I’d still be shocked if using canned beans was better for the environment.
And really, cooking with dried beans was well within my grasp. So between the environmental considerations, the cost savings, and the superior taste of making them myself, you can see how I was hooked.
How To Cook Dried Beans
Ingredients and Implements
The only things you MUST have are a large pot, water, beans, and a spoon. I also recommend salt. You can add additional things for flavor, and I’ll get to that, but the above is really all you need.
Oh, but you do need a little bit of time. The first couple of times you do this, I suggest two things: do it when you’ll be home for a long chunk of time, and don’t plan on using them for dinner that night. After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll be able to use the beans the same day as you cook them without stressing. (I’m a pretty big fan of gaining confidence with one thing before adding it to something else. I’m also not a big fan of stress.)
(I’ve included time estimations in the summary at the end.)
1) Check beans for rocks.
You can check for rocks any way you want. Many sources suggest spreading them out on a baking sheet and going through them that way. I have pretty keen eyesight and hate dirtying extra dishes, so I just pour a small amount into my hand and, after quickly perusing them for rocks, throw them in the pot. I continue with that until the bag’s empty.
You’ll be tempted to skip this, but don’t. I have found quite a few rocks over the years.
2) Soak beans (if necessary/desired).
Soaking beans is super easy. Just cover them with plenty of water (like 3-4 times the amount of beans), put a lid on the pot, and let them sit for 8 hours or more. I usually set them to soak overnight (I put the bag on the counter so I’ll remember to prep them before I go to bed) and cook them some time the next day.
If you forget to soak them the night before, you can use the “quick soak method” which goes like this:
- Cover the beans with water just like before
- Bring the pot to a brief rolling boil (boil about 1 minute)
- Turn the heat off and cover pot with a lid
- Let sit for one hour
- Continue as usual
Which varieties of beans need to be soaked?
This is an issue of some debate. Even though I soak most of my beans before cooking, I’m not fully convinced it’s necessary. Lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked. And Cook’s Illustrated’s favorite way to prepare black beans is without soaking them at all. It seems like if you don’t soak them you could just increase the cooking time a bit. But I haven’t tried it. So that’s all I’ve got for you.
3) Drain and rinse soaked beans.
Before the “real” cooking, it’s a good idea to rinse the beans. I throw the beans in a colander and rinse them in the sink. If you soak the beans, rinse them after the soak. If you don’t soak them, just give them a rinse before adding them to your recipe.
Refill the pot with water. I use 2-3 times as much water as beans. Don’t over-think it. Just add water and get her boiling. You can always add more later.
Now is the time to add any flavor you want to impart to the beans. I usually throw in a bay leaf and a bouillon cube. If you have some on hand use vegetable or chicken stock. If you have extra stems of fresh herbs around (like thyme), try adding those. These are your beans: experiment! You’re probably not going to render them inedible.
Remember: don’t salt yet.
(Here’s the deal with the salting. If you salt now, the skins on the beans are more likely burst. If you wait, they’ll be all purty. And it doesn’t sacrifice taste at all. I didn’t used to salt the pot of beans this way, but got the tip from Anne Burrell, and have been using it ever since. Because it works. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you when to salt.)
5) Reduce heat, and keep the water at a low simmer until beans reach desired doneness.
That’s pretty much it. Let them simmer. If too much film collects on the top, skim it off. It might look dirty. Don’t worry, it won’t kill you. If the water gets low, add some more.
Leave the pot uncovered. There are other options, but you can’t go wrong with leaving it uncovered.
After the first 30 minutes of cooking, check the beans every 15 minutes or so to see how they’re coming along. Some beans take longer than others to cook, and you’ll get a feel for it over time. Just keep testing every 15 minutes and let testing be your guide.
So, when are the beans “ready”? If you intend to use them as canned beans, cook them until they’re the texture of canned beans. And test several beans before you decide if they’re ready. Some beans might have cooked faster than others.
If they’re ready, turn of the heat, stir in a good helping of salt, and cover.
Okay, I mean a LOT of salt here. Several tablespoons at least. I put in a long, deep, pour. Because it makes me happy. But don’t skimp. If you do, they won’t be as tasty as the canned ones you’re used to and you’ll be tempted to go back to them (p.s. the canned ones are tasty because they have a lot of salt).
Now, go back to whatever you were doing before and let them sit for a while. (At least 10 minutes.)
When I was starting out, I did a little math figured out that one pound of beans was roughly four cans worth of beans. So I would cook one pound of beans and then portion them evenly into four containers. I think this is a good way to go in the beginning.
Because I’ve done this so many times now, I don’t measure at this step anymore. I know which containers hold about a can’s worth, and I’m comfortable with the volume varying a bit. Sometimes I use larger containers and just divvy the portions out later.
Whatever you do, fill the container with enough of the cooking liquid to cover the beans. Then let them cool before putting them in the fridge or freezer.
A Quick Summary
To Recap, here are the steps with time approximations in short form:
- Check beans for rocks. (5-10 minutes)
- Soak beans if necessary/desired, usually overnight (5 minutes + 8 hours of waiting)
- Drain and rinse soaked beans (5 minutes)
- Cover beans with water, add any herbs, and bring to a boil (DO NOT salt yet) (5 minutes + 15-20 minutes waiting for boil)
- Reduce heat, and keep the water at a low simmer until beans reach desired doneness (usually 1-2 hours depending on beans, largely unattended)
- When beans are ready, remove pot from heat, stir in plenty of salt, cover the pot and let sit for 10 minutes.
- At your convenience, come back and portion beans into freezable containers.
As with anything new, you may have to do this a few times before feeling comfortable. But soon, you’ll be able to do it without thinking as you go about your daily business. If you decide to make the transition, don’t give up! Let me know if you need help and I’ll try to help you figure it out.
Think you’ll give it a try?