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about Cooking dry beans

January 1, 2012

BEANS! Hearty and versatile, they’re good in soups, beans and eggs make good breakfast and fresh herbs make a simple and delicious bean salad. Dry beans taste better than the ones out of the can and aren’t difficult to cook but there are a few variables.

White Bean bruschetta with a poached egg.

When you cook with dry beans it’s almost always a good idea to soak the beans in water before cooking. The exception to this is small beans like lentils and split-peas which can be cooked from dry in 30-45 minutes. You don’t have to soak beans to cook them, but most beans will take 2-3 hours to cook unsoaked, whereas soaked they take about 45 minutes.

Dry beans should be soaked over night for maximum water absorption. To soak your beans, fill a plastic container or large bowl just under half way with dry beans then fill the container the rest of the way to the top with water. Beans will swell over twice their size while soaking so it’s important not to overfill your container. If you soak beans in a glass jar they’ll swell and get jammed up in the jar, which is why I recommend plastic or a bowl.

When soaking the beans you can leave them out at room temperature and they will be fine, but after a day or two they can ferment. I once soaked some beans with the intention of cooking them and ended up getting caught up and the beans fermented on my counter. Since then I have always soaked beans in the refrigerator. That way if you want to cook beans sometime over the course of a week, but don’t really care which day it is you can just leave the beans to soak in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them. It’s not possible to over soak dry beans.

When you’re ready to cook them, drain the water off the beans, put them in a pot, cover them with plenty of fresh water, bring just to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until soft (about 45 minutes to an hour depending on the bean). If you’re making soup you can add the soaked beans right to your soup base and simmer them in water or stock. There is some debate as to whether beans should be salted during or after cooking. I heard that it is generally best not to salt beans until after they have cooked because it can affect their texture. I have not noticed a significant difference either way as long as the beans are cooked until they are tender, so just do what feels right. Beans are good and they can really please all people and aren’t affected by seasonality. So buy dry beans, save money and eat well.

Note: It is true that beans can give you gas. their gassy quality comes from a type of carbohydrate that exists in beans. soaking the beans and discarding the soaking liquid curbs this a little bit, but the best way to avoid gas is to make sure the beans are fully cooked and tender. this breaks down the carbohydrate so they are more easily digested. the firmer the beans are the harder they will be to digest.

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