International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

How to Soak and Cook Dried Beans

Handful of dried beans

Image Creative Commons by sara.atkins

Beans! Beans! They're good for your heart! A great source of protein and chock full of fiber. You can buy them canned — very convenient. But canned beans are often overcooked and oversalted. Cooking dried beans yourself is much cheaper, and you get to control the seasoning. Here's a checklist of how to cook dried beans to get the best results.

First off, we're talking here about both New World beans — pintos, black beans, cannelini, cranberry beans, etc. — and Old World beans like chickpeas, favas and black-eyed peas. Cooking instructions for lentils, split peas, mung beans or Indian dals are going to be a little different.

Cleaning Beans

Pick out any grit or discolored beans. Dried beans often have little bits of rock or dirt in them. Then place the beans in a large bowl and cover them generously with water. Any bad beans should float to the surface where you can skim them off. Drain the water and rinse the beans off.

To Soak or Not to Soak

Soaking dried beans before cooking them is not absolutely necessary if you're really pressed for time. But your beans will cook faster and be more tender in the end if you let them rehydrate in some fresh water first. Also, soaking removes a lot of the oligosaccharides from the beans. These are complex sugars that the human body can't digest. These sugars are what make beans...ahem...windy.

There are two basic methods for soaking beans: the long soak and the quick soak.

Long Method for Soaking Beans

Long-soaked beans cook up with the best texture. Begin soaking your beans the night before if you want to cook them in the morning. Soak them before you go to work in the morning for dinner dishes. Place the cleaned beans in a large bowl and add enough water to cover them by a couple inches.

Put the bowl in the refrigerator and let the beans soak for 6 to 8 hours. Check them every once in a while to make sure they remain covered with water. Drain the soaking water, rinse the beans and begin your recipe. Try not to soak beans more than 10 to 12 hours or they could over-hydrate and get too mushy when cooked.

Quick Method for Soaking Beans

This is the easiest and quickest method and the one I use most often. The beans won't be quite as tender as with the long soak though. Place the cleaned beans in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover them by a couple inches.

Set the saucepan over medium-high flame and bring the water to a boil. Cover the pan tightly with a lid, remove it from the heat and set aside for about an 1 hour. Drain the soaking water and continue with your recipe.

Note: Don't drain the soaking water of black beans or they'll turn a dingy gray.

Cooking Your Beans

Cooking beans is as simple as covering them with fresh water and letting them simmer on low heat until they are tender. Make sure there is always enough water in the pan to cover the beans or they won't cook evenly. And give them a stir from time to time. To keep the pot from foaming over, just add a tablespoon of cooking oil to the water. Beans will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to cook completely, depending on the variety and their age. Old beans take longer to cook.

There's an old chef's tale that you should never add salt to cooking beans until the very end or they will be tough. That theory has basically been disproven at this point, and adding salt from the get-go really brings out the beans' intrinsic flavor.

Add whatever seasonings you like to the cooking beans. Old favorites are chopped onions, garlic, ham hocks, and cumin. Mexicans add fresh or dry epazote, a pungent herb, to black beans. Thyme and sage go well with white and cannellini beans.

Cooking Beans Without Soaking

To cook your beans directly from the dry state, clean them and cook them in an extra large pot. You will need to add extra water to the pot as the beans will soak up a lot as they cook. Allow anywhere from 2 to 3 hours of simmering and check them frequently to make sure they remain covered with liquid.

Pressure Cooking Beans

This is by far the quickest method of cooking beans, sometimes requiring only 5-7 minutes of cooking once pressure is reached. Add the beans and water to cover to the pressure cooker. Follow the cooker instructions to cook the beans at 15 pounds of pressure. The beans won't be as flavorful when cooked this way since they don't have enough time to soak up all of the dish's flavors. But their flavor will improve if served the next day.

Now go cook up some beans. They're a magical fruit!