4 ways to cook dried beans to perfection

pot of soaked beans
CC BY 2.0 Greg Myers

Beans are hearty, healthy, versatile, and cheap. Eat more of them by learning how to cook them in different ways.

Beans should be a staple in every kitchen. They are nutritious, versatile, hearty, and inexpensive. They can sit on a pantry shelf for months and then suddenly be turned into a delicious meal. Canned beans are convenient, but I am partial to dried beans. I prefer to cook them myself, not only because it’s cheaper but also because there’s something satisfying about a simmering pot of beans filling the house with a steamy aroma and providing leftovers for multiple bean-based meals. You can freeze beans easily, too.

Pre-soaking is optional, though advisable. It cuts down on cooking time, helps beans to keep their uniform shape without splitting, and possibly makes them less gassy. Soaking overnight is ideal, but you can do it for however many hours you have before cooking (usually 8 is recommended).

If you’re really in a rush and don’t have a pressure cooker, you can use the quick-soak method. Place rinsed beans in a pot covered with 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil for 1 minute, then turn off heat. Let sit for 1 hour, then start cooking. This will speed up the process considerably.

On the stove

The key to successful stove-top beans is realizing that good beans take a long time. Be patient! There will be moments when you think they’ll never become edible, but then the transformation happens very rapidly.

Rinse 1 lb of dried or pre-soaked beans and place in a heavy pot. Cover with at least 1 inch of water. Add aromatics such as bay leaf, whole garlic cloves, chopped carrots and onion, a ham hock, etc. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to a low simmer; you should barely see the water bubble. This is important because it cooks the beans evenly, without them turning to mush. Add salt when the beans are nearly ready.

In the oven

This method is less conventional but the easiest of all. Preheat oven to 325 F. Rinse beans and place in an ovenproof pot (a heavy Dutch oven is ideal). They don’t have to be pre-soaked, although it cuts down on cooking time if you do. Stir in salt and pepper. Cover with at least 1 inch of water. Bring the beans to a boil on the stove, then place in oven. Bake for 75 minutes before checking for doneness.

In the slow cooker

Slow cookers provide a steady, even heat that can cook beans to perfection if you have the patience to wait. For this method, it’s best to pre-soak because the cooking time will be long anyway. Place 1 lb soaked beans in the cooker and cover with 2 inches of water. Add 1 tsp salt, pepper, and any other aromatics you may want. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours; start checking after 5 hours. Add the second teaspoon of salt when beans are close to finishing.

In a pressure cooker

The fastest method of all, pressure cookers can make dried beans edible in less than an hour. Presoak 1 lb beans in salted water overnight. Transfer the drained beans to pressure cooker. Add aromatics (bay leaf, onion, garlic, carrots) and 8 cups of water. Add 1 tbsp oil to reduce foaming. Cook according to instruction manual; once pot reaches high pressure, reduce to medium and start timing. When they’re done, allow pot to cool and release pressure on its own. Open and discard aromatics; keep beans and broth for eating together or using separately. The broth makes great soups, so you can freeze it.

Tags: Cooking

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