This master recipe for cooking dried beans tells how to clean and soak them, when to add spices and vegetables, and how to cook dried beans in a slow cooker or on the stove. The video below shows how to clean dried beans and many advantages of cooking dried beans instead of using canned beans.
Why Organic Dried Beans are a Foundation of Cook for Good Meals
Dried beans are one of the great organic food bargains, costing only 20 to 30 cents a serving. Home-cooked beans cost about 75% less than canned beans. You can make 10 servings in about 10 minutes of active time. Home-cooked beans taste better than canned ones, have better texture, and produce a wonderful broth you can use in other dishes. All beans are full of protein for strong muscles, carbohydrates for energy, fiber for good digestion and gut health, folate for healthy babies, and phytates for healthy bones and to reduce the risk of cancer.
Using this Recipe for Most Dried Beans and Legumes
Use this recipe for dried kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), great northern beans, and most specialty beans. For more tender dried legumes, such as split peas, black-eyed peas, and lentils, use the same process but start checking the beans for tenderness in 45 minutes, or even just 30 minutes if you soak the peas. If you intend to use the bean broth as aquafaba (an egg or dairy replacement), please use this recipe instead. Kidney beans need a little extra care for safety (soak, drain, and cook in fresh water until tender at a high enough temperature).
This master recipe looks long, but only steps 1, 5, and 10 are essential. The other steps cover options such as soaking, draining, and adding other ingredients. All the choices lead to delicious, healthy, and wildly affordable meals. Do what works best for your schedule and taste.
- 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 to improve texture, save energy, and possibly for easier digestion. 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 to an hour. It helps make sure the beans cook evenly all the way through. Use plenty of water: six cups should be enough for a pound 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. Add salt now for maximum flavor unless you plan to drain the beans before cooking.
- 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.
- Optionally, add aromatic vegetables and spices for more flavorful beans. Think onions, celery, peppers, carrots, and garlic. For even more flavor, cook the vegetables for 5 minutes or so with a little olive oil in a skillet and then stir in fragrant spices such as ground cumin or chipotle. Add vegetables (cooked or not) with any herbs such as oregano or bay leaves. Do not add tomatoes, citrus juice, or other acidic foods now because this will make the beans tough.
- Cook beans in a slow cooker or on the stove until they are creamy and tender. Undercooked beans are hard to digest. If a thick foam appears, skim it off and throw it away. After the beans have been simmering for awhile, test three or four beans for doneness; they don’t always cook evenly.You’ll also save energy compared to cooking beans on the stove. I like to use a slow cooker because it’s so easy and the beans get the best texture because they cook very slowly. Either way, you want them to be barely boiling and always covered by water.
- Using a slow cooker: Put the rinsed (and possibly soaked) beans into a slow cooker that will hold at least 7 cups. Add water and, if you drained the beans, salt. Turn slow cooker on low. Cook until the beans are tender, adding extra water if needed to keep them covered. Cook beans for about 7 1/2 hours and peas or lentils for about 6 hours). 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. Then most beans will cook in 3 /12 hours and peas or lentils in 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Using a pot on the stove: Put the rinsed (and possibly soaked) beans into a pot that will hold at least 7 cups. Add water and, if you drained the beans, salt. Cover the pot and bring beans to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low. Beans will be ready in about 2 1/2 hours and peas or lentils in about 40 minutes. Speedy red lentils cook in 20 or 30 minutes.
- Optionally, add tender vegetables about thirty minutes before beans are done. Tender vegetables include kale and other greens, summer squash, and corn. You can add these earlier if you want, but they will hold their shape better if you wait. Sometimes I stir in spinach leaves at the last minute so they barely cook.
- Drain beans if you want. Save bean broth for other recipes. Chickpeas produce an especially wonderful broth, better than any canned vegetable broth I’ve tried. Sometimes beans are terrific served right in their broth, perhaps with a squeeze of lime.
- Add tomatoes, citrus juice, or other acidic foods if desired and cook until hot.
- Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Serve beans hot, at room temperature, or chilled. Use in other recipes, refrigerate for up to five days, or freeze.
Tips and Notes
- I often cook two pounds of beans at a time. Just double all the proportions.
- Some people throw out out soaking water because they worry about phytates. Dr. Michael Gregor has some fascinating videos on how phytates actually help prevent osteoporosis in humans and also help prevent and even reverse cancer. He pin-points the anti-nutrient concern to studies done on puppies (puppies!) in 1949 and confirmed by studies on rats (poor rats!). But studies on humans shows that people who eat more foods with phytates have stronger bones than people on a low-phytate diet. He quotes a study showing that phytates strengthen bones like alendroate (Fosamax) does, but without the dreadful side effects. You can buy more than 16 pounds of dried organic beans for the cost of one Fosamax pill, without a trip to the doctor.
- Sometimes dried beans don’t soften. It could be the mineral content in your water or that the beans are too old. Fresher beans cook faster. Sometimes they will soften if you cook them overnight in a slow cooker, making sure the beans are under an inch or so of water.
- Many people like how quickly pressure cookers and Instant Pots cook dried beans. Please follow the manufacturer’s directions for these devices, which can be great conveniences but dangerous if not used as intended. Check out my friends’ well-tested recipes for more ideas. Visit Veggie Queen Jill Nussinow’s site for pressure cooker recipes and Kathy Hester’s Healthy Slow Cooking site for Instant Pot recipes.