So, you panicked and bought a bunch of dried beans, and now you’re trying to cook them. And what you’ve got there is a pot full of hard, gummy, possibly crunchy, nuggets of sadness.
Hopefully you at least googled dried bean cooking before you got started, but if you didn’t, it’s ok. Failure and mistakes are how we learn, and you’re in the perfect position to learn all about the magic and wonder that is…
COOKING WITH DRIED BEANS
Canned beans are incredibly easy to cook and use: open the can, dump in a pot, add some salt and pepper, and voila. They’re great for putting in soups, casseroles, and chili, they bring flavor and protien to your meals, they’re filling, and they give you a butt trumpet! On the downside, they can be mushy and a little flavorless (use seasoning! It won’t hurt you to try a spice!)
Dried beans are all the goodness of a canned bean, plus a heartier skin and thus nicer mouth feel (don’t worry, I won’t go full Boyle.) The skin will hold a bit under your teeth, then give, exploding a creamy and flavorful packet of carbohydrates and protien, and giving you the tasty mmmms.
On the downside, you do need to actually properly prepare your beans! These bad boys require some love, attention and time. Dried beans do not instantly become yummy, they need time to reveal their full potential to your taste buds.
Wait! Extra first, thanks to a reminder from Kristina… wash your beans! Rinse well in running water, and pick out any random gravel, debris, and anything that floats. You’ll also want to pull out any beans that are discolored, lumpy, or otherwise ‘weird’ looking. Ok, on with the cooking!
First things first: soak your beans.
First: you must soak those tasty nuggets-in-waiting. Either overnight in water a couple inches over the beans, or, hot pre-soak before you cook em: pot, beans, water above the beans a couple inches, bring to a boil, turn off heat, cover and let sit 30 minutes before you drain that water, and can now proceed to cook your beans. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL.
Dried beans will swell up after you’ve soaked them! They’ll increase in size up to three times, so one cup of dried beans becomes three cups of soaked beans. Plan accordingly when measuring out your beans to cook, because cooking will also increase their size a bit! You can absolutely wind up with more beans than one person can eat in any form of a reasonable timeframe. BUT, you can freeze your cooked previously dried beans and save ‘extra’ for later.
Your bean cooking odyssey is nowhere near over.
You may be thinking “I soaked ’em overnight, so now, 30 minutes on the stove should be good, right?” NOPE. You’re in for another couple hours of cooking before those beans are edible. It’s worth it! I promise!
Take your now soaked beans, and cover with an inch or two of water. Simmer, don’t boil, for ONE HOUR. Add a tiny touch of salt, not too much, you’ll add more later. You can also add any bones you want to use with your beans at this point. Ham hocks are popular, but any bone you’d normally use to make broth can go in. Think of it like making broth to cook your beans in while you’re cooking your beans. It’s efficient and tasty!
Stir every now and then, and skim off the weird foamy stuff that floats up. It’s perfectly normal and does not mean your beans are ruined. They just do that. In fact, that floaty foam is what inspired some cook somewhere to try whipping the juice from a can of chickpeas, and thus creating vegan whipped cream. Weird, but true. But, you don’t want it in your cooked beans, so use a spoon to skim that off from time to time.
At the one hour mark, add aromatics to your beans. Onion, garlic, peppers, spices. You’ll also add more salt and pepper now. Taste the juice to check the flavor and adjust your salt level accordingly.
Continue to simmer (not boil) for 30 to 60 minutes. Test a bean at the half hour mark to see how it’s doing; some beans cook faster than others. Kidney beans take forever to cook, smaller beans and lentils are faster. If it’s chewy, gummy, weird in any way, let it sit in it’s simmer juice until it behaves. To check that your seasoning is right, taste the bean juice: the beans will taste like the juice, once they’ve soaked in it enough. If the juice is tasty, the beans will be tasty, too.
Once your beans are properly bean-like in consistency, turn off the heat and leave ’em alone for another 30 minutes, to soak in their juices.
Pull out your bones, pick bits of meat off and toss back into your pot, and you’ve got beans. Enjoy!
Things that can go in beans to make them delicious: leftover broth, bits of cooked veggies, onion, garlic, peppers, cilantro, lime juice (just a bit, after cooking), balsamic, paprika, chili powder… you can serve with some shredded cheese of your choice (dark beans, try sharp cheddar, lighter beans try feta), or some sour cream.
I have a pot of navy beans on the stove right now, and they smell divine. Soon, I’ll have beans, and some of the chicken I made earlier this week, and I shall eat while makng mouth sounds of joy.