If you do nothing else after looking at the Cook for Good site, please start cooking a pot of dried beans every week. Dried beans are one of the great food bargains, costing about 75% less than canned beans. Cooked dried beans taste better than canned ones and produce wonderful broth you can use in other dishes. This site and my book Wildly Affordable Organic have many recipes for dried beans, most of which start with this basic recipe for cleaning, soaking, and cooking dried beans.
Use this recipe for dried kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), and great northern beans. For more tender dried legumes, such as split peas, black-eyed peas, and lentils, use the same cleaning method but start checking for doneness in 45 minutes, or even just 30 minutes if you soak the peas.
- Clean the beans (see video above). Clean the beans by putting about a cup of them on one side of a light-colored plate and pulling a few of them at a time towards you. Pick out anything that is not a bean, such as small stones or stems. Also pick out any beans that look much smaller and more wrinkled than the rest. (These mummy beans tend to stay hard no matter how long you cook them.) After you've worked a batch of beans over to the other side of the plate, dump them into a colander and pick over another batch until you've checked them all. Rinse the beans well under running water.
- Soak beans if you want, an option that saves energy and may reduce side effects. The FDA recommends always soaking kidney beans for at least five hours and throwing away the soaking liquid to avoid problems with a toxin in some kidney beans. Once you've picked over and rinsed the beans, you can soak them in water for several hours or overnight. Soaking beans softens them without heat and cuts the cooking time by 30 minutes or an hour. Use plenty of water: twelve cups should be enough for two pounds of beans. You can soak beans in the slow cooker or pot that you will be cooking them in. Leaving them on the counter is fine; you don't need to refrigerate them.
- Optionally, drain and add fresh water. I usually cook beans in their soaking liquid. Some people throw away the soaking liquid and cook beans in fresh water (always do this with kidney beans). This will throw some of the taste and nutrients down the drain but may help if beans give you gas, especially when you first start eating them regularly.
- Cook beans in a slow cooker or on the stove until they are creamy and tender. Undercooked beans are hard to digest. After they have been boiling for awhile, test three or four beans for doneness; they don't always cook evenly. I like to use a slow cooker because it's so easy and the beans get the best texture because they cook very slowly. You'll also save energy compared to cooking beans on the stove.
- Using a slow cooker (best way): Put the rinsed (and possibly soaked) beans into a slow cooker that will hold at least 14 cups. Add water and salt. Turn slow cooker on low. Cook until the beans are tender, adding extra water if needed to keep them covered. If you are in a hurry, bring the water to a boil before adding it to the slow cooker and turn the slow cooker on high.
- Using a pot on the stove: Put the rinsed (and possibly soaked) beans into a pot that will hold at least 14 cups. Add water and salt. Bring the beans to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. Cover the pot with its lid. Cook until the beans are tender, adding extra water if needed to keep them covered.
- Drain the beans if you want. Either use right away, refrigerate, or freeze.
Tips and notes
- Chickpeas produce an especially wonderful broth, better than any canned vegetable broth I've tried. Freeze this broth in a muffin tin, then pop out the little cups of broth to use for making rice, chickpea-noodle soup, or any recipe that calls for chicken broth.
- Sometimes when beans first start to boil, a thickish foam will float on top of the water. Skim off the foam and throw it away.