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.
Besides being delicious and accepting of just about any flavoring, virtually all types of beans are nutrient powerhouses—rich in protein, folic acid, magnesium and protective phytochemicals. (Choose darker-colored beans, and you'll benefit even more; recent research confirms that black, red and brown beans are richest in heart-healthy, cancer-protective antioxidants.) Most beans are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, and the carbohydrates they contain are slowly digested, with a gentler effect on blood-sugar levels. That makes beans especially filling and satisfying, even though they're fairly low in calories—about 100 to 125 calories per half-cup serving. Hearty, protein-packed and toothsome, beans closely match meat's nutrition and flavor profile, without the accompanying dose of saturated fat.
Cooking dried beans from scratch gives you the firmest texture and best flavor, and it's easy to do with a little advance planning. But there's no denying that canned beans are wonderfully convenient, and you're more likely to eat beans regularly if there are canned beans in your cupboard. So we're advocates of having both types on hand.
When you use canned beans in a recipe, be sure to rinse them first in a colander under cold running water, as their canning liquid often contains a fair amount of sodium.
A pound of dried beans (about 2 cups) will yield 5 to 6 cups cooked beans.
One 19-ounce can yields about 2 cups cooked beans; a 15-ounce can, about 1 1/2 cups.
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.
Place the drained, soaked beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches (about 2 quarts of water for 1 pound of beans). Bring to a boil, skimming off any debris that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, 1 to 2 hours (cooking time will vary with the type and age of the bean). Wait until the end of the cooking time to add salt or acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, vinegar or molasses; these ingredients prevent the beans from softening.
Place the drained, soaked beans in a slow cooker and pour in 5 cups boiling water. Cover and cook on high until tender, 2 to 3 1/2 hours. Add salt, if using, and cook 15 minutes more.
The ease and speed of cooking dried beans in a pressure cooker is reason enough to invest in one. Dried beans cooked using a conventional stovetop method take 1 to 2 hours to cook, whereas dried beans cooked in a pressure cooker are typically done in less than 20 minutes. When you make beans from scratch, you also have the added benefit of controlling the amount of added salt. Here’s how to pressure cook dried beans:
1. Pick over and rinse 1 to 3 cups of dried beans. Use the smaller amount for smaller pressure cookers (4-quart capacity) and more if you have a large cooker (6-quart capacity or larger). Place the beans in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by 3 inches; let soak for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. (Alternatively, use the “quick soak” method: Place beans in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover them by with 3 inches. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Let stand for 1 hour.) Drain.
2. Place the beans in a 4-quart or larger pressure cooker. Add aromatics, such as 1 halved peeled onion, 1 peeled carrot, 1 stalk celery and/or 2 (or more) peeled garlic cloves, if desired. Add 3 cups water for each cup of beans. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil for each cup of beans. (It’s important to add the oil when cooking beans in a pressure cooker: it helps prevent foaming, which may clog the steam release valve.) For safety reasons, you should not fill the cooker more than half full. Refer to your manual for more specific safety precautions.
3. Secure the pressure cooker lid. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting that maintains high pressure. Cooking time depends on the type and freshness of the beans. The fresher the beans, the quicker the cooking time. Although it’s usually not possible to tell how fresh your beans are, in the EatingWell Test Kitchen we have found that beans found at farmers’ markets and in bulk bins at natural-foods stores are often more fresh than beans sold in plastic bags at large supermarkets. Our timing suggestions, below, are for conventionally packaged beans sold in large supermarkets. If you know you’re using fresher beans, reduce the cooking time by about 2 minutes:
Black beans: 12 minutes
Cannellini beans: 16 minutes
Chickpeas: 12 minutes
Pinto beans: 10 minutes
4. Allow the pressure to release naturally. This will take 5 to 20 minutes. If your beans are not tender, secure the lid and return the cooker to high pressure. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting that maintains high pressure and cook for 2 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally. Repeat, if necessary, until the beans are tender. For more bean-cooking times, consult your pressure cooker manual.
5. Season the cooked beans with salt to taste. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid, if desired. Discard the aromatics, if using. (The bean broth is the flavorful bonus—use it in soups and stews instead of chicken or vegetable broth.)
When you buy beans at a farmers’ market or a busy store with a lot of turnover, you’re likely to be getting fresher beans (harvested in the last year or so). Fresh beans are less dry so they cook more quickly and evenly. If you don’t have access to a wide variety of beans, you can mail-order them from Native Seed Search (nativeseeds.org) or Rancho Gordo (ranchogordo.com).