Cooking dried beans

Dried beans

Dried beans are delicious, nutritious, and easy to prepare – unless, of course, you have hard water

When I moved to New York, cooking dried beans became a frustrating task. No matter how long I soaked and simmered them, they never quite cooked all the way through. I was flummoxed! Not being able to cook my own dried beans was simply not an option. After a fruitless Google search, I reached for my cooking bible: Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. I found the answer on page 488. The culprit: hard water! The calcium in my tap water, even though I filter it, prevented the beans from cooking all the way through.

I put the book down, made a beeline for the pantry, emptied a jar of black beans in a bowl and immediately soaked them with bottled spring water. The next day, I strained the beans and simmered them with a fresh batch of bottled spring water. Within 45 minutes my black beans were plump and soft, to perfection: a triumph!

Effortlessly cook dried black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans… you name it!

Now I cook a pot of dried beans every week: extraordinarily creamy cannellini beans, flavorful black beans, meaty corona beans, colorful borlotti beans, petite Umbrian chickpeas, tiny white purgatorio beans… the list is as long as it is delicious. And every time my pot of beans simmers on the stove, I give thanks to Mr. McGee. Without him, I might have done the unthinkable: given up cooking dried beans altogether.

What are lectins…? And why it’s a good idea to soak and rinse your beans

But there’s another important thing you need to know about beans! Raw beans contain an abundance of lectins, a type of carbohydrate-binding protein that we can’t digest, which causes some pretty uncomfortable symptoms. Fortunately, there are a few things a cook has in her arsenal to defend against those bothersome lectins. Although cooking the beans does remove most of the lectins, soaking and thoroughly rinsing them will further decrease the amount of lectins. What’s more, cooking the beans with a piece of dried komku seaweed also helps reduce their gas-producing properties.

One last trick: for extra-creamy beans, use baking soda!

For an extra-creamy texture, just add baking soda to the cooking water. This is helpful if you want to cook beans for making dips, such as chickpeas for hummus; or if you’re cooking very large ones such as gigante or corona beans. But be aware that baking soda can also turn your beans to mush in no time, so keep a close eye on them as they cook. (Also, very little goes a long way – see cook’s note below.)

Who knew those colorful legumes could be so finicky?! But if you use the right water – and soak and rinse them properly – cooking dried beans becomes as easy as pie. Here are some scrumptious recipes that might inspire you to cook a pot of beans right now!

Heirloom beans from Tierra Vegetables

The colorful beans used in these photographs are from Tierra Vegetables, an amazing sustainable farm (and farm stand!) in Sonoma County, California. They grow about 20 varieties of heirloom beans – some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

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Dried beans

Cooking dried beans

makes 4 to 6 cups (depending on the bean variety)
active time: 15 min

  1. 1 lb (455 g) dried beans (approximately 2 cups, depending on the size of the beans)
  2. bottled spring water for soaking and cooking
  3. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 2 large garlic cloves – peeled and left whole
  5. 2 large bay leaves
  6. 1 piece dried kombu seaweed (optional – see introduction above)
  7. 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (optional – see cook’s note)

  1. Quick soak method

    Place the beans in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add enough bottled spring water to cover the beans by 3″. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let stand for 1 to 2 hours. Drain the beans, rinse 3 times and drain well again. Place the beans back in the soup pot and add enough bottled spring water to cover the beans by 3″. Bring to a boil and skim any foam that forms at the surface. Add the olive oil, garlic and bay leaves (and kombu and baking soda, if using) and stir well. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours until beans are tender. The cooking time will depend on the beans’ variety, dryness and age. Remove bay leaves and garlic (and kombu). Either let cool in their liquid and refrigerate for up to 5 days or drain and proceed with your recipe of choice. Always reserve the cooking water; it’s very flavorful and can be used as a stock.

  2. Long soak method

    Place the beans in a large bowl and add enough bottled spring water to cover the beans by 3″. Let stand at room temperature for 6 to 12 hours. Drain the beans, rinse 3 times and drain well again. Place the beans in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot and add enough fresh bottled spring water to cover the beans by 3″. Bring to a boil and skim any foam that forms at the surface. Add the olive oil, garlic and bay leaves (and kombu and baking soda, if using) and stir well. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours until beans are tender. The cooking time will depend on the beans’ variety, dryness and age. Remove bay leaves and garlic (and kombu). Either let cool in their liquid and refrigerate for up to 5 days or drain and proceed with your recipe of choice. Always reserve the cooking water; it’s very flavorful and can be used as a stock.

  3. Cook’s note: Use baking soda only if you want extra-creamy beans or to cook very large beans such as gigante or corona beans. Baking soda will reduce the cooking time and tend to make the beans mushy, so be vigilant.

Dried beans

how-to, cooking beans, dried beans, bottled water

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