You may have seen piles of colorful beans at your local farmers’ market. Or perhaps you’ve stopped to gawk at the natural-foods store’s rows of bulk bins filled with a mind—boggling array of beans. Go ahead and give them a try. You can cook any variety of bean with our basic cooking method (see Pot of Beans). Then you can use them in any recipe calling for cooked or canned beans.
To soak or not to soak? Soaking beans before cooking helps them to cook more evenly and cuts down on the total cooking time. So if you’ve planned ahead, soak them. If you don’t have time, skip the soaking, but plan to cook the beans longer. Fresher beans, which are less dry, need less soaking time than beans that were harvested more than a year ago.
Our preferred method for cooking most types of dried beans is to soak them first, to shorten their cooking time. (Lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked, as they cook quickly.) For the best results, use the overnight soaking method; if you're in a hurry and don't mind risking a few burst bean skins, use the quick-soak method.
Rinse and pick over the beans, then place them in a large bowl with enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Let the beans soak for at least 8 hours or overnight. (For longer soaking, or in warm weather, place the bowl of beans in the refrigerator.) Drain.
Rinse and pick over the beans, then place them in a large pot with enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour; drain.