Cooking with dried beans is easy and more economical than buying canned beans (which often contain salt as part of the ingredients). It just takes a little time. You can often buy a big bag of dried beans that will make double or triple the amount of cooked beans. In practice when I work with dry beans, I have found the following methods below helpful in cooking and preparing dried beans to be eaten on their own, or to be used in a final bean-based recipe. It also ensures that the beans are cooked through sufficiently.
Three methods are presented below. Choose what method works for you depending on the amount of time and kitchen equipment you have. Of course, since a wide variety of different dry bean types and sizes exist, cooking times may slightly differ, but I hope these general guidelines below are helpful. Regardless of the method you choose, it is generally recommended to throw out the first batch of cooking water that you use when boiling the beans, and then you can save the second batch of cooking water for later use in cooking if you desire. This is especially important if you are cooking kidney beans (for more information on this, read here).
Complete Stove Top Cooking Method:
Here is a method to use if you don’t have a slow cooker or want to do more prep work on the stove top. This is a straightforward and simple way to cook dried beans but it does involve a bit more vigilance watching the pot contents on the stove.
- Soak the quantity you want to use in a pot of cold water overnight for at least 10- 12 hours (with plenty of water to cover the beans). [See Note below *]
- The next day, discard this water and rinse the beans. Then fill up the pot with fresh water (enough to cover the beans by 2-3 inches of water) and cook the beans in boiling water for at least 30 minutes. Aim for a gentle consistent bubbling of the pot contents (without the contents overflowing the pot), adjusting the heat setting of your stove as needed. Cover the pot with a lid, leaving a small opening to let excess steam escape.
- After about 30 minutes, discard this first batch of cooking water. If you are planning to use these cooked beans in the slow cooker, simply throw the beans now in the slow cooker with the other ingredients to cook. If you are not using the slow cooker, see the next step.
- Fill up the pot again with fresh water (covering the beans with at least 2-3 inches of water on top). Now cook the beans again in boiling water for another 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your preference for how soft you would like your beans. If you plan to eat the cooked beans on their own (e.g., as part of a grain bowl or just as a side), you can add in an onion (cut in half) and 1-2 whole garlic cloves into this cooking water for more flavorful beans. However, this is completely optional and I don’t usually add in any onion, garlic or salt when cooking beans on the stove top because I plan to use the beans in other recipes later on (with the recipes’ own spices and seasonings).
- When the beans are cooked through (scoop some up in a spoon and blow on them gently to see if the skin peels back easily). You can taste a few too! If done, remove the beans from the pot to be used in your recipe.
- Don’t discard this second batch of cooking liquid as it can be used later on in recipes calling for vegetable broth. I like to use this leftover bean cooking water in making noodle soups, pasta sauces or in slow cooker recipes. This saves you time and money from having to buy commercial vegetable broth and enhances your recipes with more nutrition and flavor than using just water. The bean cooking water can keep in the fridge for a few days, so you can use it later in the week in a recipe, or you can also portion and freeze this extra cooking water to thaw and be used at a later date.
Slow Cooker Cooking Method:
This method is useful if you want to throw the beans into the slow cooker and let them cook, allowing you to get on with other things on your agenda. This method does take longer though (about 3-4 hours) so plan ahead if you want to use the beans for a dinner recipe in the evening. In general, most dry beans can be cooked using this method below. However, for safety reasons, especially for dry red kidney beans, I would recommend first boiling dried beans in a pot of water on the stove top for at least 30 minutes before cooking them further in the slow cooker. To find out why and read more about this, click here. If you have time, you can still soak the beans in a generous pot of cold water overnight (see method above) as this will make the overall cooking time faster, but if you don’t remember to do this, don’t worry.
- Fill up a pot with fresh water (enough to cover the beans by 2-3 inches of water) and cook the beans in boiling water for at least 30 minutes. Aim for a gentle consistent bubbling of the pot contents (without the contents overflowing the pot!), adjusting the heat setting of your stove as needed. You can cover the pot with the lid if you like, leaving just a small opening to let excess steam escape.
- After about 30 minutes, discard this first batch of cooking water, and put the beans in the slow cooker. Fill the slow cooker with fresh water, covering the beans by at least 2-3 inches of water on top. Add a whole onion (sliced in half) and one or two peeled whole garlic cloves if you like. (Some advocate adding half a teaspoon to one teaspoon of salt as well, but I usually don’t as I use the beans in other dishes. Alternatively, you can taste and add a little bit of salt at the end of the cooking process if you prefer.)
- Replace the lid and turn the slow cooker on to a ‘low’ or ‘high’ setting (depending on how much time you have available) and let the beans cook for about 3-4 hours, or until the beans are cooked to a texture to your liking. To check, scoop some beans up with a spoon and gently blow on them to see if the skin peels back easily. Taste a couple of beans to check the texture and taste.
- When cooked through, turn the slow cooker off and remove the lid. Let the beans cool and remove some beans to use in your recipe. Discard the onion and garlic cloves (if used) in the slow cooker. Reserve the bean cooking liquid to use as vegetable broth in future recipes.
Instant Pot Cooking Method:
This method is useful if you want a faster method of cooking dry beans, or forgot to soak the dry beans the night before but need them for cooking that day (as has happened to me numerous times!). The Instant Pot usually comes with a cooking guide for different cooking times to set manually for different types of beans, so that is a helpful guide to refer to. However, here are a few tips on cooking beans using the Instant Pot:
- Soaked beans will require a shorter manual cooking time than unsoaked dry beans. I have found that unsoaked beans in general can take an manual setting of ’20 – 25 minutes’ to cook through under ‘Normal’ mode, while soaked beans may be cooked adequately with a manual cook time set to ’15 minutes’ or so, when only a small amount of Natural Pressure Release (NPR) time is allowed.
- Adjust the manual cooking time and amount of time allowed for NPR based on the desired final texture of the beans. For example, if you hope to have a crunchier ‘just cooked’ version of beans rather than a mushier very well cooked version, set the beans to cook for a shorter period of time and then soon after manually release the pressure by switching the Steam Release Handle to ‘venting’ (be careful of the hot steam being released quickly once the Steam Release Handle is turned on the Instant Pot lid). Alternatively, for a much softer and cooked texture, let the beans sit within the sealed chamber of the Instant Pot for a much longer period (at least 10 – 15 minutes) to allow a longer NPR time.
- When manually setting the cooking time, remember that it takes a bit of extra time for the inner chamber of the Instant Pot to build up in pressure before the actual cooking time starts, and also for the chamber to depressurize under Natural Pressure Release. So overall expect the total length of time for cooking the beans to be slightly longer than the manually set time taking into account these two factors.
- Regardless of whether you use soaked or unsoaked dry beans in the Instant Pot, it is still generally recommended to boil these beans on the stove top for at least 30 minutes first (for the same reasons as mentioned above in this post). Then discard this cooking water, before placing these beans in the stainless steel inner pot along with fresh water to cover the surface of the beans by at least 2-3 inches. Press ‘manual’ and adjust the time to the desired amount, and the Instant Pot will automatically begin the cooking process. Make sure the Steam Release Handle is turned to ‘Sealing’ before you set the cooking time!
- Don’t discard the cooking liquid used to cook the beans in the Instant Pot! This can be used straight away in your recipe or put into soups directly. It can also be saved into lidded glass jars to be frozen or refrigerated to be used later on in the week in recipes calling for vegetable broth.
What Should I Do With The Extra Beans?
If you make a large quantity of cooked beans at once (which I recommend as it will save you lots of time and less washing up in the future!), you can measure the extra cooked beans (drained of liquid) into cup or gram measurements and portion into lidded glass mason jars or freezer safe containers. Label, date and store these containers in your freezer. This makes it easy to take a jar out to thaw and use in your next plant-based recipe. And since you have already portioned it out, you know exactly how many jars to take out for your next cooking adventure. Happy bean-based cooking!
*NOTE: The longer you soak the beans, the less ‘gas-producing’ potential they will have in the final dish. For those who have sensitive digestive systems starting to incorporate more beans into their diets, plan to soak dry beans in a generous amount of cold water for at least 24 hours first before cooking. Change out the bean soaking water used with fresh cold water at least twice during this period of time. Then when cooking the beans, cook them down until they are a really soft texture before consuming.
(Image Credit: Featured Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash)