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Cooking dried beans is easy;
learn the basic steps

Almost everbody goofs up the first time they try cooking dried beans. Did you try to cook beans once but they never got soft? It has happened to all of us! It is not hard to cook beans. There are only a few basic things you need to know.

Bean basics

sorting beans
Before you cook dried beans, you need to sort through them carefully. We use a baking sheet. Spread one handful of beans out on the sheet and look closely for for rocks, dirt, and discolored beans. Remove inedible stuff.

Transfer the sorted beans to a strainer. Repeat, sorting one handful of beans at a time, until you have the quantity you need. (We set the strainer on a scale.) Rinse the beans.

Because beans are dry, they need to cook in lots of water to rehydrate properly. The water level in your pot should be 2" above the beans. This is about 3 - 4 cups of water per cup of dry beans. Once the beans are clean and covered with water, you have three different options for cooking dried beans:

  1. Soak the beans for 8 hours. Drain and add fresh water. Then cook on top of the stove, in the oven (covered), in a crockpot, or in a pressure cooker.

  2. Boil the beans for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover and let sit for an hour. This is called a quick soak. Drain and add fresh water. Then cook on top of the stove, in the oven (covered), in a crockpot, or in a pressure cooker.

  3. Don't soak the beans at all. We often cook unsoaked beans in a crockpot on high temperature. They get done in 4 to 7 hours, depending on the type of bean. You can cook unsoaked beans in a pressure cooker in less than an hour. However, rapid high pressure cooking may break the skins and make the beans less attractive. 

When beans are done, they should be soft enough that you can mash them against the roof of your mouth with your tongue. "Firm" beans are not finished cooking. They are hard to digest and they don't have a good flavor. 

It is easiest to cook beans in plain water, without any seasonings or other ingredients. While they are cooking, you can chop and water-saute whatever vegetables and seasonings you want to add. When the beans are soft, drain off some or all of the cooking liquid. Add the cooked beans to your vegetable and seasoning mix. Simmer to blend flavors.

Problems cooking dried beans

If you add salt or any acidic foods to beans as they cook, they will take a very long time to become soft. In fact, they may never become soft no matter how long you cook them. Some typical acidic ingredients that you should be aware of are tomatoes, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, and molasses. Always add these after the beans are tender.

As beans get older they take longer to cook. You can never assume that beans are done just because you cook them for the usual time. Always test them with the "squish on roof of mouth" method.

If you want to cook beans in a pressure cooker, do not fill the cooker more than half full. At the end of the cooking time, don't release the pressure rapidly. Let it come down naturally so the skins of the beans stay intact.

Fast cooking beans

Some small beans cook fast enough that you can just cook them on the stove top without any soaking. These include lentils, split peas, and mung beans. If you are just learning how to cook beans, you might want to start with lentils:

  • Red lentils cook in 20 - 30 minutes without any soaking. They dissolve into a "gravy" when cooked, so you can use them in soup or even as a sauce. Don't plan on using them in a salad because they won't hold their shape.

  • Brown lentils take about 45 minutes to cook, and they also make delicious soups. You can use them in salads if you are careful not to overcook them.

  • French green lentils take a little longer to cook than the others, but they hold their shape well for salads.

Exotic beans

Christmas limas

Be adventurous! Try some beans you have never eaten before. Natural food stores often have a large assortment of dried beans in bulk bins.

We live in the desert southwest, and our local Mexican grocer has all kinds of colorful beans we would never find in the supermarket.

Cooking dried beans is easy and rewarding. Canned beans never taste quite as good as home-cooked beans. Once you start cooking your own you will never go back.

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