20151110-BeansHow To Cook Dried Beans
november 10, 2014

Dried beans are ridiculously easy to cook. Here are three  things I've learned in my many years of cooking beans:

1) The fresher the beans, the faster they cook - buy them from stores with a high turnover.
2) The more gentle the simmer the more whole the beans remain - boiling hard breaks them apart.
3) Salt prevents softening - add salt after the beans are soft.

Why not just buy a pre-cooked can of beans? For starters, home cooked beans simply taste better. You control the salt and any additional flavors like spices or onion or garlic. With beans cooked at home, there is no need to worry about toxic chemicals, like bisphenol-A, leaching out of the packaging into your food. And there is no packaging (if you buy in bulk) or at least less (if your beans come in a bag) to throw into a landfill.

If you have enough time, use a slow cooker, this takes three to six hours and is my favorite method. If you need the beans more quickly, use a pot on the stove, this takes one to three hours.

Either way, or when adding dried beans to a recipe, soaking them overnight speeds up the cooking process: sort them, then cover  with three inches of water in a bowl or pot and leave them to sit while you sleep. You can also use the quick soak method: sort the beans, cover with three inches of water in a pot, bring it to a boil, let it boil for one full minute, then turn the heat off and let them sit for one hour.


Dried Beans

Herbs (optional)
Onion, peeled and sliced in half (optional)
Garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half (optional)

For starters, measure out your beans. If you have a recipe that gives only a measurement for canned or cooked beans, just go ahead and make the same amount as the recipe calls for and know that you will have extra, you can always freeze them for later. Beans can expand from two to four times their dry size when cooked.

After measuring, sort the beans. Sorting is very important because the machinery that harvests beans can suck up bean-sized rocks, which you want to remove before cooking. Biting down on a rock, instead of a bean, can cause extensive tooth damage. I can't think of a worse way to wrap up dinner than with someone breaking a molar. 

To sort them, pour the measured beans onto one side of a baking sheet, then move them across to the other side of the sheet as you sort through looking for rocks. You might also find clumps of dirt or mutant beans, which you probably don't want to eat, either.

Put the sorted beans into a large pot or pot of a slow cooker. Cover the beans by at least 3 inches of water. Add any spices, an onion or garlic now, if you'd like.

For the slow cooker, set it to low and check the beans for softness every half hour or so.

The stove takes more attention: bring the beans to a gentle boil, then set the heat to medium-low to simmer. Check every half hour for softness.

When the beans are as soft as you want them to be, turn off the heat, add 1 teaspoon salt per cup of dried beans, stir and let them sit for at least ten minutes before using.

Cooked beans will keep for three to five days in the fridge, and for much longer in the freezer. Dry beans on the shelf will keep forever, but the older they get the harder it is to get them soft when cooking.


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