October 18, 2020

How to Cook Dried Beans

Cooking with dried beans is easy. It just takes planning and time.

Beans, beans, the magical fruit...

Don’t worry, I'm not even going to go there. Shocking, I know.

Canned beans are incredibly convenient. They’re an easy way to add a little more substance to pasta. They make it fast to create refried beans or hummus if you have a craving.

But dried beans are on a different level.

When you plan ahead and take the time to do dried beans right, they’re SO worth it. They turn out creamy but not mushy. And you have the opportunity to infuse flavor into the beans as they cook.

A side of good beans can easily turn into the star of the meal. 🌟

Oh, and they’re cheap. So darn cheap. Like “rather spend your money on a new pair of shoes” cheap. Like “on a college budget but still want to eat fancy” cheap. Like “feeding your huge Italian family during the holidays” cheap. Like…okay you probably get it.

Best part? They’re cheap! Just kidding. The real best part? While it takes time, dried beans essentially cook themselves

The Steps to Cooking Dried Beans

These are the steps I’ve learned from studying how some other smart human beans do it. 🥁

🔍 Step 0: Inspection

Check your dried beans. You don’t want any rocks or off-looking beans.

You can also rinse your beans if they’re a bit dirty.

🛀 Step 1: Soak

You’re going to want to soak them in advance to cut down on cooking time. It also makes sure the beans cook evenly. How? Just like lathering on a Vitamin-E boosted, coconut overnight mask (not that I know what that is like 😬), soaking rehydrates them.

To soak the beans, add them to a bowl and fill it until the water level reaches 2-3 inches above the beans.

Then add a tablespoon of salt per cup of beans. For all of us nerds out there, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt found that unsalted beans absorb more water during the soaking process. The unsalted beans will have a less concentrated bean flavor than the salted ones since they’re filled with bland water. Plus they’re more likely to burst when cooking because they’re already full of water.

Next? Be like the Beatles and let it bean. 🥁

Soak them around 8 hours and up to 24. You may want to throw them in the fridge if they soak for more than 8 hours to prevent bacterial growth.

There are exceptions to the soaking rule:

  • Thin-skinned beans—like black beans or black-eyed peas—don’t need to be soaked. You can learn more about why you shouldn’t soak black beans here.
  • If you have really high quality, freshly dried beans, then you can probably get away without soaking. But unless you’re buddies with the bean farmer down the road, this probably isn’t you. Or me for that matter (If you’re a bean farmer, do you want to be friends?!?). So soaking is a safe bet.

🏗 Step 2: Build Flavor

We need to infuse the beans with more flavor! Here are some ideas for aromatic add-ins:

  • Alliums like garlic, shallot, or onion
  • Sturdy herbs like rosemary, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, or sage
  • Spices like cumin, fennel, or dried chili peppers

All of the items above are highly aromatic and will flavor our cooking water and thereby our beans. They make for a tasty broth and amazing beans.

Once finished soaking, drain the beans. Then in a pot large enough to hold the beans, heat up a couple of tablespoons of oil or butter. We start by cooking our herbs and spices in a bit of fat for a short moment. Fat brings out more of their flavor since most herbs and spices are fat-soluble—meaning fat releases more of their flavor compounds.

Next, before the spices and herbs brown, add your other aromatics elements like onion, garlic, or peppers and a pinch of salt.

🥘 Step 3: Simmer

Once your aromatics are in, add your beans and enough water so the water level is 1-2 inches above the beans. Be careful, too much water will dilute the flavor.

Next, bring your water to a slight boil and immediately turn down the heat. We want a gentle simmer when cooking our beans. Otherwise, a vigorous boil will be more likely to break the outer walls of the beans and cause them to disintegrate. Obviously lower temperature water means the beans will cook slower, but you already knew this was time-intensive labor of love. Might as well do it right!

⏲ Step 4: Wait

Cooking dried beans takes a while—anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on the type of bean, cooking temperature, if you soaked them (which you did), and how fresh they are. This means cooking times for the same type of bean can even vary from batch to batch.

So just make sure to start cooking your beans plenty of time in advance. And stir them on occasion.

👅 Step 5: Taste

Start tasting your beans about 30-45 minutes in. It’s the best way to know if they’re done. You want them tender but not mushy. If they’re still grainy, they need longer.

Once the beans are almost done, take the pan off the heat. Let them sit. This is something I learned from Joshua McFadden. You have to be cautious of carryover cooking with beans. Because the water is still hot, they will keep cooking even off the heat. This is especially important if you started them in advance and the beans got done earlier than expected.

Intentionally undercooking your beans is also an important consideration if you’re using them in a soup. Depending on when you add them, they will also cook in the soup’s broth too. So you may want your beans slightly underdone in that case.

🥰 Step 6: Savor

Once they’re done, rejoice in your beans. Be proud of yourself. You took the road less traveled.

If you’re storing the beans for later, keep them in their cooking liquid. It helps keep them hydrated and flavorful. Plus the liquid is the perfect vessel for gently reheating them.

Other than “eat them as is” (which is my favorite), here are a few ideas for how to use your beans:

  • Add them to soups or pasta (you can use the beans’ cooking liquid as a broth too—it’s incredibly flavorful!).
  • Blend them up with some of your aromatics for a flavorful bean spread. And even fry that bean spread in a bit of fat to make refried beans.
  • Make a bean salad by tossing drained, cooked beans with a vinaigrette, feta, and maybe some crunchy, pickled onion.

I always end up making a large batch of beans because I’ll use them throughout the week in all sorts of ways.

You can check out my list of resources here.