At about a dollar per pound, dried beans are practically the definition of budget-friendly. But so often, shelf-stable bags of beans end up sitting in the pantry indefinitely. Use these tips to cook them with confidence.
Give ’em a wash. Like vegetables, beans should be washed under cool running water. Remove any stones or shriveled beans.
Soak to soften. Place beans in a pot and add water to about three to four inches above their surface. Let beans soak on the counter for several hours or overnight. To save time, use the quick-soak method: Cover beans with water and bring to a boil, then simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for one hour. Drain and discard the soaking liquid before cooking beans. With this method, results are slightly less consistent than overnight soaking as some beans may not soften completely.
Decrease the flatulence factor. When using a slow cooker, the soaking step isn’t necessary. However, the best way to reduce the likelihood of flatulence for some people is to soak beans, regardless of the cooking method. Change the water after soaking and after cooking; this sends many of the fermentable starches down the drain. Salt? Despite conventional wisdom, for the best bean flavor, salt beans before cooking (1 teaspoon salt per pound of beans). Salt slows the softening of skins, so beans don’t get mushy. If salt restriction is essential or the beans will be pureed, as in hummus or refried beans, salting is unnecessary.
Add oil for creaminess. Another optional ingredient, 1 tablespoon oil per pound of beans can create a creamier texture and reduce foaming during cooking.
Boost flavor. To cook on the stove, place beans in a pot, cover with water (or flavorful broth) just to the top of their surface and bring to a boil. Add optional aromatics such as bay leaves, garlic and thyme. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are tender. Check the package for cooking times — usually around one hour and 45 minutes. Cooking times may be longer if beans have been on the shelf for more than a year.
Set it, forget it. In a slow cooker, cover beans with water and set on low for six to eight hours or on high for three to four hours. If a specific texture is desired, begin checking beans about one hour before expected doneness and add more water as needed.
Save time. A multi-cooker or pressure cooker can cook beans in six to 40 minutes (depending on bean size), even without soaking. Follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions.
After cooking, store beans in their cooking liquid for the best flavor, creamy texture and to avoid hardening during refrigeration or freezing.
Beans can be added to any soup, stew, salad, appetizer, entrée or dessert to bump up nutrition.
For the meat eater. Gently hand-mix one pound ground turkey and 1 to 1½ cups well-drained and mashed beans. The beans keep meat moist and create volume to make more meatloaf, burgers or meatballs for pennies.
For the baker. For better taste and texture in baked goods, use bean puree in place of applesauce or other fat substitutes. Replace up to half the butter or oil in quick breads, cakes or bars. Pureed beans also can be used in place of some wheat flour in pancakes, muffins, cookies and brownies; expect a denser, fudge-like texture.
There is no wrong way to season beans. Take inspiration from around the world!
Global: Cook garbanzo beans and season with olive oil, curry powder and lemon juice, or make a Mediterranean tomato and bean salad.
Culinary classics: French cassoulet is a slow-cooked dish of meat and white beans. German Westphalia white bean stew with prunes is budget-friendly.
Regional American: Mix a batch of red beans and rice or make sweet, savory baked beans.
Fresh ideas: Drizzle a bowl of beans with soy and Sriracha sauces, sesame oil and lime juice; or stir Chinese five-spice into a pot of baked beans.