Pot of Beans

There are some things I do in the kitchen that are worthwhile to me, but may not matter much to everyone else. I’m sure you’ve seen a few of these things on this blog (half bread flour and half all purpose, really? Make your own vanilla? C’mon.)

I’m going to suggest something that you may initially scoff at, but I plead you to try it. Instead of opening a can of beans, soak and cook your own. Here are all of the reasons I think this is time well spent:

  1. Really and truly, they taste better. Canned beans are mushy and often have an off-taste.
  2. Economics: You can get a pound of dried beans for about $1.50, which yields 5-6 cups of cooked beans, (which often lasts my family about two meals.) A single can of beans costs about the same, and yields a cup and a half. You usually need at least two cans for a single meal. I’ll let you do the math.
  3. David Tanis says canned beans have no soul.
  4. You can get really neat dried heirloom varieties of beans here, that you will never find in a can.
  5. When you cook beans, not only do you get beans, but you get a tasty broth too.
  6. Most cans are lined with BPA. I know, the jury is still out, but I’m not waiting for them to come back in.
  7. If you’re lucky enough to have a pressure cooker, you can skip the soaking and have your beans in about 30 minutes.

Here’s the method:

Do a quick sort to make sure there are no pebbly bits in your beans.

Soak your beans in a big bowl with plenty of water. Overnight is spectacular, but if you forget, drop them in first thing in the morning, and you can be cooking by lunchtime. At least four hours is needed. You can do a quick soak, which entails bringing the water to a full boil, and then turning it off and soaking for at least an hour, but I haven’t gotten very good results when I’ve tried this.

Drain your beans. Return them to your large pot, and cover with several inches of water. Bring to a full boil for about 5 minutes. Skim off any foam that accumulates. Turn heat down to a simmer, partially cover, and cook until beans are tender, but not falling apart.

I find that white beans cook the fastest, and chickpeas and black beans take the longest. Kidney and pintos are middle of the road. I wish I could tell you exactly how long your beans will take to reach the perfect texture, but it honestly depends on too many factors, like the freshness of your beans and the hardness of your water, so just pay attention the first time you make them. Count on at least 45 minutes to an hour for white or small beans, and up to two hours for large beans or chickpeas.

Things to try: Adding flavorings to your cooking water. As you can see above, I added a smashed clove of garlic, a few sprigs of parsley, some crushed red pepper, and a bayleaf to my small navy beans. This left me with lightly scented beans, and a pleasant tasting broth. These are my standard add-ins for general bean cooking, but you can get creative  – if I were going Mexican, I might throw in garlic, jalepeno, and some cumin seed. For chickpeas destined for something Middle Eastern, maybe garlic and lemon peel.

But whatever you do, don’t add in salt or anything overly acidic (like tomatoes) until after the beans have reached optimum tenderness. Otherwise, they will seize up and never relent, and you will be sad as you sit crunching on your bean soup.

Any leftover beans can be stored in their liquid for up to two days in the fridge. If you know you aren’t going to use them up by then, you can drain and spin them dry in a salad spinner, then freeze. Frozen beans can go right into a warm skillet, and be ready for dinner in a few minutes.

Here are some ways to use your beans:

Veggie burgers
A whole slew of bean recipes from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks
Channa masala from A Little Yumminess (this is a staple at our house, but I sub in cooked beans for the cans, and add the cooking water instead of plain water)

Comments 15

  1. Suzanne wrote:

    Anna, thanks for this post. I was aware of the whole BPA scare – but hadn’t heard about it possibly being in the lining of cans! We eat canned beans probably 3 nights a week, so I will most definitely be cooking my beans from scratch now. A pressure cooker for Christmas is sounding like a good idea…

    Posted 27 Oct 2011 at 9:16 pm
  2. Anna wrote:

    Suzanne-just to clarify, there definitely is BPA in the lining of most cans. There are a few (Garden of Eden, I believe) that specify on the label BPA-free. I know the jury is still out on if/how much BPA is harmful, but I like to avoid it when I can. But it is nice to have a few cans of beans on hand for last minute dinners!

    Posted 28 Oct 2011 at 2:14 am
  3. Elaine wrote:

    I made chilli this week using beans from a bag and it made a huge difference in the texture of my chilli. I have always hated the contrast between the tough skin and the soft insides of a kidney bean. Maybe I just didn’t cook my beans enough, but this batch is firmer and will break apart as I bite rather than squish. I don’t think I can go back to canned kidney beans ever again.

    Posted 08 Dec 2011 at 4:52 pm
  4. Nicole wrote:

    Anna, can this be done with chick peas? I am in love with chick peas and eat a small can on my salad probably 3 times a week and I would also like to avoid potential BPA.

    Posted 18 Dec 2011 at 9:00 pm
  5. Anna wrote:

    You can absolutely do it with chickpeas. You’ll be amazed, chickpeas especially taste different/better when made from dried. Chickpeas definitely need an overnight soak though, and sometimes 2 hours cooking. They’re little rocks, those chickpeas. But make a big batch on the weekend, and whatever you don’t use in 3 or 4 days, you can easily freeze. They can go directly in a skillet frozen to be thawed/heated. Good luck!\

    Posted 19 Dec 2011 at 12:08 am
  6. Lisa wrote:

    Do you think I could do the cooking part in a crock pot? I hate watching over things that take a long time to cook on the stovetop.

    Posted 15 Jan 2012 at 2:33 am
  7. Anna wrote:

    So, I’ve been meaning to post again on beans. I recently read an article by that famous food writer at the LA times about not soaking your beans at all, just cooking them a super long time. I just did black beans in a crockpot, no soaking at all. I cooked them with some smashed garlic, bay leaves, and a slice of bacon (omit that if you’re going vegan :) ). I cooked them on high for 5 hours, and they were perfect. I think you could cook them on low for longer. I don’t think this would work for chickpeas since they are so hard, but for most others, go for it. Let me know how it works if you skip the soak.

    Posted 15 Jan 2012 at 3:35 am
  8. Julie wrote:

    I just made pinto beans in the crockpot overnight..they turned out great! I soaked them in a bowl on the counter during the day and then put them in the crockpot on low for like 8 or 9 hours overnight and it worked out perfectly.

    Posted 15 Jan 2012 at 12:53 pm
  9. Anna wrote:

    Sounds delicious. If you ever try it without soaking, let us know!

    Posted 15 Jan 2012 at 3:35 pm
  10. Julie wrote:

    Also, I’ve seen recipes for cooking chickpeas in the slow cooker but I haven’t done it…yet.

    Posted 15 Jan 2012 at 12:55 pm
  11. Anna wrote:

    Let me know how it works out!

    Posted 15 Jan 2012 at 3:35 pm
  12. Lisa wrote:

    I’ve done it! I just did chickpeas on Monday night. I put a 1 lb bag, washed but not soaked, in the big crock pot on low at about 9 p.m. (LOTS of water to be on the safe side. I believe it was at least 6 cups. I didn’t measure carefully) And by morning they were done! There was extra water that I just drained off and voila!

    I also did kidney beans on Saturday in my small crockpot on high. Those only took 3 or 4 hours.

    This is brilliant! I feel like I can do anything now that I’ve learned how to cook legumes in the crock pot!!! Ha!

    Posted 18 Jan 2012 at 3:42 pm
  13. Lisa wrote:

    Also, Anna, I just want to tell you that I have never tasted a bean so good as the first bean I cooked myself. It was so flavorful and just the right texture. And I used the broth, too, as you suggested. You are totally right on this one. It is absolutely worth it! And with the crockpot method, it’s ridiculously easy.

    Posted 18 Jan 2012 at 3:44 pm
  14. Anna wrote:

    I’m so happy for you! Beans cooked yourself really are something special. Now you need to check out http://www.ranchogordo.com/ for some heirloom varieties.

    Posted 20 Jan 2012 at 6:50 pm
  15. Lisa wrote:

    Wow! It’s bean heaven!

    Posted 21 Jan 2012 at 3:25 am

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 1

  1. From White Bean Soup | Tallgrass Kitchen on 02 Dec 2011 at 4:03 am

    […] I gave you the skinny on soaking your own beans. Here’s an opportunity to use them. You will need approximately 1 1/2 lbs of dried beans, […]

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