How to Cook Dried Beans – The Quick and Easy Method
Oct 22, 2016, Updated Jun 28, 2020
Eating unprocessed can seem time consuming when you first start out. Whole foods take forever to cook, don’t they? Not if you have a handful of cheffy secrets and pro tips. A few weeks ago I wrote a post on my site, Fearless Fresh, with tips for cooking whole grains without taking up a ton of time. Whole grains are a great addition to unprocessed meals that are both healthy and won’t break the bank. Besides whole grains, there’s one other addition to your quick and easy whole foods arsenal. Everyone’s favorite musical fruit: BEANS!
Beans are not only a great source of fiber, they’re are a healthy way to add more protein to your diet without adding a ton of fat, carbs, or extra cholesterol. They’re also a fast option for dinner when you don’t have much else in your cupboard.
For best CHEAP results, buy dried beans.
When it comes to beans, you have two options: canned or dried. Canned beans are great and pretty healthy, but the truth is they’re expensive. At my local grocery store a can of kidney beans is $1.25, while I can get almost two full pounds of dried beans for the same price.
And here’s a secret: there are few things tastier than fresh beans made on the stovetop, cooked slowly over a few hours (with very little actual work).
Yes, I said “a few hours.” Don’t balk. I promise there’s a cheat here that will make beans doable for any weeknight dinner. I’m here to show you how to make perfect home cooked beans without bending over backwards.
Where can you get fresh, dried beans? You can generally get them in the bulk aisle of your local grocery store. Avoid buying mass-produced dried beans in bags, as they’ve often been sitting on that supermarket shelf for a very long time. If your local grocery store doesn’t have beans in bulk and you have to buy bags of beans, give the bags a good look-over. If you notice they’re dusty or generally look old, pick another package.
The cheat: make-ahead for success
The most effective tip on cooking dried beans is to make them ahead of time. Just like with whole grains, beans are an awesome and cheap way to clean up your diet. The problem is that dried beans are a time-consuming endeavor since they require a few hours to cook. Thankfully, also like grains, they are easily prepared in large batches so that you can feed yourself for the rest of the week. I make four to five cups of beans on Sunday, when I have more free time to cook, which gives me enough for dinner and quick, healthy lunches throughout the week.
Another plus? The more you eat beans, the less you’ll experience their……… dolorous effects. That’s a pretty big win.
The overnight soak — yea or nay?
A note on soaking: many recipes suggest that you soak your beans overnight to get rid of their “musical qualities.” While you can certainly do this, it really doesn’t make a difference. In fact, I don’t like soaking my beans overnight because I always wake up the next morning to a bowl of weird-looking, half-soaked lumps that have stretched out of their skins. They only cook a little bit faster when they’re soaked, and in the end it just adds another step to an already time-consuming process.
Easy cooked beans
Regardless of the type, beans are best prepared simply, with very little seasoning to compete with their natural flavor. You can use the below method to cook almost any kind of beans: Black beans, kidney beans, Great Northern beans, navy beans, pinto beans, you name it.
First, what should you cook beans in? Beans are made for easy cooking, which means there are no crazy tools or bean pots necessary. In other words, feel free to cook your beans in whatever pot or Dutch oven you have handy. Just make sure it has a lid.
I start by heating 3 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame in my bean pot or Dutch oven. Once that’s good and hot, I toss in half a chopped onion, and let that cook until soft, about three minutes. Then I add one clove of chopped garlic and cook for another minute.
Once that’s all done, I toss in one pound of my beans of choice along with enough hot water to cover them by about 3 inches. Give the whole thing a stir and cover the pot, setting the lid slightly askew to let some of the steam escape. Lower the heat to a simmer.
Now, depending on the kind of beans you’re using, they could take anywhere from an hour to four hours to cook. Check every 20 minutes or so, eating one to test for doneness and to make sure there’s enough water in the pot to keep them moist. Once they’re almost done — once you try one and it’s almost tender — add the salt. You don’t want to salt your beans early on because this can lead to mushiness (ew).
Your beans are done when bite into them and they’re soft, without any crunch or other hardness. Some beans are creamy, some are firm, and some are starchy… but none of them should ever be tough or offer up any resistance to chewing. Do not overcook them or they will turn to mush. (Which, incidentally, you could turn into hummus or bean dip.)
Once your beans are full cooked, stick them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Beans make a great addition to almost any dish you can think of. Add them to scrambled eggs, toss a handful into a salad, mash them up on toast, you name it. They’re a great source of fiber and protein, and can turn any lackluster last-minute dish into something you’ll actually be stoked to eat. If you want to get creative, look up a couple of recipes for how to make refried beans, winter bean soups, or some crafty 70s bean casseroles. If all else fails, try taco night!
Heirloom Beans FTW!
I’ve recently fallen in love with heirloom beans, which are varieties that have been around for long enough that their genes haven’t been tinkered with in a lab. No sir/ma’am, no Franken-beans for me! These days I get my beans in bulk from the local organic co-op, but sometimes I splurge for extra special beans from Rancho Gordo, who grows fresh heirloom beans that are guaranteed to be freshly dried and packaged.
How to Cook Dried Beans Quickly and Easily
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 pound dried beans
- water, for cooking
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Heat olive oil over a medium flame in your bean pot or Dutch oven. Once that's good and hot, toss in the onion and let that cook until soft, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add one clove of chopped garlic and cook for another 1 minute.
- Toss in 1 pound of beans along with enough hot water to cover them by about 3 inches. Give the whole thing a stir and cover the pot. Set the lid slightly askew to let some of the steam escape. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook.
- Depending on the kind of beans you're using, they could take anywhere from an hour to 4 hours to cook. Check every 20 minutes or so, testing for doneness and to make sure there's enough water in the pot to keep them moist.
- Once they're almost done (i.e., you taste a bean and find it's almost tender) add salt. Don't salt your beans too early, or they'll end up mushy (ew).
- Your beans are done when bite into them and they're soft, without any crunch or other hardness. Some beans are creamy, some are firm, and some are starchy... but none of them should ever be tough or offer up any resistance to chewing. Do not overcook them or they will turn to mush.
- Once your beans are done, stick them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
A version of this post originally appeared on FearlessFresh.com, under Healthy Eating for the Weak and Weary: How to cook dried beans.