I’m not above canned beans, and I try to keep a few in my cupboards at all times—types we tend to use in smaller amounts, or our fave kinds for those bean emergencies (yes, we have bean emergencies. Doesn’t everyone?)
But there’s no denying that for flavour and price, you can’t beat beans cooked from dry.
Although it can take some foresight, cooking beans from dry is almost entirely hands off and is super easy. If you’ve tried to make beans from dry before and couldn’t get them to soften, let me offer my best diagnosis: the beans were sitting in the cupboard for too long while you mustered up the wherewithal to try cooking them, by which time they were too old and dry to soften.
If you use relatively fresh beans (I mean, they’re dried, so we’re talking a wiggle room of a matter of months to years here), I see no reason why even the greenest of cooks can’t get a tender pot of beans. (Note: some say salt and acidity—like from tomatoes or lime—will inhibit bean cooking. Some say it won’t. I add neither.)
So, once you’ve gotten your hands on some non-ancient dried beans, here’s what I suggest you do:
1. Soak em
Soaking helps ensure older beans cook evenly. Nobody wants a sad pot of beans that are half hard and half burst. When in doubt about the age or genesis of your beans, soak.
Another reason to soak is to break down phytic acid, which is naturally occurring in beans and can bind to minerals, thus decreasing their absorption (however, note that phytic acid—an antioxidant—also has health benefits, so perhaps dig into this one a little more on your own if you’re interested).
The internet abounds with theories and hacks for this phase of bean cookery. I like to keep it super simple and reserve my brain power for more interesting things, so I typically do an old fashioned, straightforward soak. Rinse the dry beans, add them to a pot, cover them by a good few inches with fresh, cold water (they’ll absorb plenty and swell in size), then leave to sit for as little as 5 but no more than 24 hours.
2. Rinse and Replace
After they’ve soaked, add the beans back to your pot and cover with fresh water by about a scant inch (for pressure cooker) or a couple of inches (for stove top). At this point you can add aromatics to the beans too, like onions, garlic, herbs, and spices. I typically cook very large quantities of multi-purpose beans, skipping the aromatics so I end up with a neutral base that I can flavour later. There is no one right way—do what works for you.
3. Simmer to Tender Perfection
Stove top: cover with a lid, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Keep the simmer gentle, so the beans don’t smash around and turn themselves into bean dip (I’m exaggerating, don’t be scared, this won’t happen). Monitor the pot to ensure the beans stay submerged in water.
The cooking time will vary depending on the age of your beans, and on how tender you like them (I like them super soft). Just keep an eye on them and start tasting for doneness after about an hour. Give the pot a stir, and scoop out at least two beans to bite into—like pasta, they should be easy to bite through but not mushy.
If you undercook your beans, add them back to the stove. If you overcook them, make bean dip or soup. I have both undercooked and overcooked beans in my many years of cooking them. It’s not a big deal—it will happen and you will recover. Don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from trying!
Pressure cooker: set to high pressure. I find 6 minutes works for pinto beans and 14 minutes for chickpeas—my two most-cooked legumes. If you’re cooking something else, I recommend the book Vegan Under Pressure, which has great time charts for pressure cooking beans and grains. (Borrow it from your library if you want to check it out first.) Let the pressure come down naturally to avoid bursting your beans.
A word on pressure cookers: I cooked beans on stove tops for many years, and it works perfectly well. However, I have found an electric pressure cooker to be a hugely worthwhile investment. Beans cook quickly, with even less attention or fuss, and the end product is creamier, more uniform beans. It also turns split lentils (dal) into creamy perfection that can’t be obtained on a stove top. If you’re a fellow member of the legume fan club, you may find a pressure cooker a worthy appliance addition, too.
4. Store Your Beans
Use immediately, or portion the beans and their cooking water into containers. If you put them in the fridge, they will firm up a little. They’ll keep for three or four days (if you’ve already cooked them into a curry, chili, etc. with some salt and acid—which act as mild preservatives—they’ll keep a little longer). Or, you can store your containers in the freezer for later use. I tend to make very large quantities, use some immediately, and store the rest in the freezer so they’re ready to go in the coming weeks.
That’s it! To sum up: rinse, soak, drain, cover, simmer, eat. Hope you found this useful! If you end up becoming a dry bean devotee, let me know—I love hearing from you. xox