This week we’re going to talk about everyone’s favorite musical fruit: how to cook dried BEANS — the easy and delicious way. This goes along with my other post, how to cook dried beans to perfection.
Beans are not only a great source of fiber, they’re are a healthy way to add more protein to your diet without adding a ton of fat or carbs. They’re also a great idea for dinner tonight when you don’t have much in your cupboard and the thought of going to the grocery store makes you want to jump off a bridge.
When it comes to cooking beans, you have two options: canned or dried. While there’s nothing wrong with canned beans — they are certainly healthier than a lot of the things you get out of a can — there are few things tastier than fresh beans made over a few hours on the stove (with very little actual work). And I’m here to show you how to cook dried beans without breaking a sweat.
I know, I said “few hours.” Don’t balk. I promise there’s a cheat.
How to cook dried beans from scratch.
Just like with whole grains, learning how to cook dried beans is an awesome and cheap way to clean up your diet. The problem is that dried beans are a time-consuming endeavor since they require a few hours to cook. Thankfully, also like grains, dried beans are easily prepared in large batches so that you can feed yourself for the rest of the week. I make four to five cups of beans on Sunday night, when I have time to cook, which gives me enough for dinner and quick, healthy lunches throughout the week.
Another plus? The more you eat beans, the less you’ll experience their, um, dolorous effects. They become a perfect option when you’re considering what to cook for dinner.
To soak or not to soak?
A note on soaking: many recipes suggest that you soak your beans overnight to get rid of their, um, musical attributes. While you can certainly do this, it really doesn’t make a difference. In fact, I don’t like soaking my beans overnight because I always wake up the next morning to a bowl of weird-looking, half-soaked lumps that have stretched out of their skins. Ick. They only cook a little bit faster when they’re soaked, and in the end it just adds another step to an already time-consuming process.
How to cook dried beans — it’s easy.
Learning how to cook dried beans so that they’re the perfect texture and flavor is surprisingly easy. Regardless of the type, beans are best prepared simply, with very little seasoning to compete with their natural flavor. You can use the below method to cook almost any kind of beans: black beans, kidney beans, Great Northern beans, navy beans, pinto beans, you name it.
First, what should you cook beans in? Personally, I’m a total food nerd so I cook my beans in a terra-cotta olla, which is a traditional Spanish bean pot. But by all means, feel free to cook your beans in whatever pot or Dutch oven you have handy. Just make sure it has a lid. Beans are made for easy cooking, which means there are no crazy tools or bean pots necessary.
I start by heating 3 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame in my bean pot or Dutch oven. Once that’s good and hot, I toss in half a chopped onion, and let that cook until soft, about three minutes. Then I add one clove of chopped garlic and cook for another minute.
Once that’s all done, I toss in one pound of my beans of choice along with enough hot water to cover them by about 3 inches. Give the whole thing a stir and cover the pot, setting the lid slightly askew to let some of the steam escape. Lower the heat to a simmer.
Now, depending on the kind of beans you’re using, they could take anywhere from an hour to four hours to cook. Check every 20 minutes or so, eating one to test for doneness and to make sure there’s enough water in the pot to keep them moist. Once they’re almost done — say, once you try one and it’s almost tender — add the salt. You don’t want to salt your beans early on because this can lead to mushiness (ew).
Your beans are done when bite into them and they’re soft, without any crunch or other hardness. Some beans are creamy, some are firm, and some are starchy… but no varieties of beans should ever be tough or offer up any resistance to chewing. Do not overcook them or they will turn to mush. (Pro tip: If that happens accidentally, you could turn it into hummus or bean dip.)
Once your beans are done, stick them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Beans make a great addition to almost any dish you can think of. Add them to scrambled eggs, toss a handful into a salad, mash them up on toast, you name it. They’re a great source of fiber and protein, and can turn any lackluster last-minute dish into something you’ll actually be stoked to eat. If you want to get creative, look up a couple of recipes for how to make refried beans, winter bean soups, or some crafty, cheesy 1970s bean casseroles. If all else fails, try taco night!
For best CHEAP results, buy dried beans.
Canned beans are great and pretty healthy, but the truth is they’re expensive. At my local grocery store, a can of kidney beans is $1.25, while I can get almost two full pounds of dried beans for the same price. Where can you get fresh, dried beans? You can generally get them in the bulk bin at your local grocery store. Avoid buying mass-produced dried beans in bags, as they’ve often been sitting on that supermarket shelf for a very long time.
I’ve recently fallen in love with heirloom beans, which are varieties that have been around for long enough that their genes haven’t been tinkered with in a lab. No sir/ma’am, no Franken-beans for me! These days I either get mine in bulk from the local organic co-op, or I order them from Rancho Gordo, America’s most respected and sustainable heirloom bean grower. Rancho Gordo’s beans are mighty fresh and tasty, probably due to the fact that they’re guaranteed to be less than a year old – you don’t want to know how long those beans have been sitting on the shelf at your local chain grocery store.
How to freeze cooked beans
Now that you know how to cook dried beans, what’s next? Well, making a whole bunch of beans at once and then freezing them is a super ninja strategy to creating fast and healthy meals during the week. You just freeze your beans, then pull out a bag for dinner. They cook up in less than 10 minutes. Sweet!
Freezing beans can suck, because they all stick together into a big lump. I’ve got a fix for that!
- Take a large baking pan and line it with paper towels, then take another baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Once the beans are done, pour off any excess liquid and spread them onto the paper towels to soak up any liquid that remains.
- Let them sit 20 minutes or so, then transfer the now-much-dryer beans from the paper towel to the parchment. Spread the beans out into one even layer, with no overlap, and stick the pan in the freezer.
- Once they’re frozen, pop the beans off the parchment and add them to a zip-top bag or freezer container. Since they’re mostly frozen individually at this point, they should stay pretty easy to separate (unless your freezer defrosts and freezes).
Note: I use this same method for freezing berries. :)
How long should you cook dried beans?
This is a tough question, because there are so many kinds of beans out there and it’s hard to say how long each kind takes to cook. (They all cook for completely different times. Sigh.) While this can be confusing for anyone in the beginning of learning how to cook dried beans, this can be frustrating because there’s no clear answer.
I’m going to be one of those people who says, “It takes as long as it takes.” I hate it when people say this to me, but in this case it’s true. When you factor in the fact that freshness is a HUGE variable with how long beans take to cook, well, it’s really tough to say. For example, I’ve had black beans cook in a little as three hours and as as long as five.
When I find that I’m cooking beans on a regular basis, here’s what I do to figure out the cooking time: I pick a specific brand and type of beans to stick with (in my case it’s usually Rancho Gordo cannellini beans), then I cook them once until they’re perfect and note the amount of time it took. I then apply that same time to that specific brand of beans going forward. It should be fairly consistent if you keep using the same beans.
The best recipe for BEAN PERFECTION!
I hope this dried bean primer has been helpful. Below you’ll find my master recipe for making the best dried beans known to man/womankind.
To do this week:
- Go to the store, buy a bag of dried beans — black beans and pinto beans are great for starting out — and cook them up. Then report back and let me know how it went.
- If you run into any problems, join the Fearless Fresh Ninja Group on Facebook and post with what’s going on. We’ll help you figure it out. It’s a great community that exists ONLY so you can get your cooking questions answered, get free kitchen coaching from me, and be a part of a vibrant, supportive cooking community.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- 1 pound of dried beans
- Water for cooking
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Heat olive oil over a medium flame in your bean pot or Dutch oven. Once that's good and hot, toss in the onion and let that cook until soft, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add one clove of chopped garlic and cook for another 1 minute.
- Toss in 1 pound of beans along with enough hot water to cover them by about 3 inches. Give the whole thing a stir and cover the pot. Set the lid slightly askew to let some of the steam escape. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook.
- Depending on the kind of beans you're using, they could take anywhere from an hour to 4 hours to cook. Check every 20 minutes or so, testing for doneness and to make sure there's enough water in the pot to keep them moist.
- Once they're almost done (i.e., you taste a bean and find it's almost tender) add salt. Don't salt your beans too early, or they'll end up mushy (ew).
- Your beans are done when bite into them and they're soft, without any crunch or other hardness. Some beans are creamy, some are firm, and some are starchy... but none of them should ever be tough or offer up any resistance to chewing. Do not overcook them or they will turn to mush.
- Once your beans are done, stick them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
This content was originally posted on FearlessFresh.com.