By Gabriella Vigoreaux
Let's talk about beans. They are so nutritious and elemental to our diets. They're cheap, versatile, and as easy to cook as opening up a can, right? We're here to tell you to put aside the can opener and start cooking more with dried beans. Bet we can convince you (and make your next batch far tastier than you could imagine).
The number one reason more people don't cook with dried beans is because, to put it simply, it's a huge pain. You have to clean them and soak them (or do you?) before you can even start cooking them. The whole process can take hours, which doesn't exactly make it a spur of the moment thing. However, once you know the process (it's actually super easy) you can make big batches of delicious beans to have on hand whenever you want them. And now for every single thing you've ever wanted to know about cooking with dried beans:
1. You will save money by switching.
Not only do you get more bang for your buck (seriously, you get so many dried beans in a single bag) but the flavor and texture is far superior to anything that comes out of a can.
2. There are crazy heirloom varieties waiting for you to try.
There are far more delicious varieties of dried heirloom beans out there than canned ones, and they're just waiting for you to cook them. The Christmas Lima Bean has a chestnut flavor. Yellow Eye Beans taste creamy and rich. Scarlet Runner Beans create a super-intense bean broth.
3. The texture is amazing (and the gassiness is lessened).
Canned beans are almost always mushy. Beans cooked from dried are entirely different, with tender skins that still retain texture, and almost fluffy interiors that are rich and creamy. Plus, if you soak them before you simmer them, you'll be far less likely to be distracted from your next bite by unwelcome gassiness, since soaking helps break down the polysaccharide culprits.
4. You can make them in advance.
Sure, cooking beans from dried isn't quite as convenient as popping a can, but you can still make those cooked beans work on a weeknight. Just make a big batch of cooked beans on a weekend, and freeze them in 1- to 2-cup increments to quickly defrost for a weeknight soup or stew. Cooked beans will keep in a covered container for 5 days in the fridge or up to 6 months frozen in an airtight freezer container.
5. Dried beans are flavor sponges.
Unlike canned beans, dried beans still need to soak up a lot of liquid as they cook--which means that if you add aromatics to your cooking liquid, all of that flavor permeates your beans. Ham hocks, whole heads of garlic, herbs like thyme, oregano or sage, and spices like chipotles or cinnamon can all be added to the pot to flavor your beans.
Just remember the four keys to bean-simmering success:
Always rinse and sort those beans. Unlike canned beans, dried beans can come with the occasional pebble. Save your teeth by giving them a quick rinse in a colander, and picking out anything that doesn't look like a bean.
Do a shortcut soak with a quick boil. If you don't have time to soak your beans overnight, try the quick-soak method: Cover your beans with water by a couple inches, then bring to a boil and cook for just 1 minute. Cover and let stand an hour, then drain and cook. (And by the way, be sure to drain that soaking water. All those gas-inducing compounds are dissolved in it).
Simmer (don't boil) those beans. If you're impatient for your beans to cook through already, you might be tempted to use a rolling boil rather than a gentle simmer. Resist the urge. Boiling the beans will split their skins, which means the poor beans will deflate their filling into the water rather than staying intact. And it won't cook them any faster.
Treat your beans with kindness: Just cover with 2 inches of water or stock, add your desired flavorings, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, which can take up to 2 hours depending on the size (and the age) of your beans (use this chart for reference). Once they're tender, but not mushy, drain the beans immediately to stop the cooking process, saving the cooking liquid for soup.
Ready to get your beans on? Get started with: