Cooking dried beans Soaking your beans overnight, to no avail? Hard water may be the culprit!
Dried beans are delicious, nutritious, and easy to prepare – unless, of course, you live in my neck of the woods.
When I moved to New York, cooking dried beans became a frustrating task. No matter how long I soaked and simmered them, they never quite cooked all the way through.
Then, a couple of years ago, my bean predicament came to a head. I’d invited a friend for dinner and decided to make a favorite Tuscan side dish: cannellini beans with rosemary, served with a drizzle of spicy olive oil.
I soaked the beans for 24 hours and started cooking them hours before our dinner. But I never got to serve them: long after the dinner was over, my beans were still simmering on the stove! I gave up. The entire batch ended up in the compost pile.
How long to soak dried beans? Well, that depends on your water…
The situation was intolerable. Life without being able to cook my own dried beans was simply not an option. After a fruitless Google search, I reached for my cooking bible: Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. I found the answer on page 488. The culprit: hard water! The calcium in my tap water, even though I filter it, prevented the beans from cooking all the way through.
I put the book down, made a beeline for the pantry, emptied a jar of black beans in a bowl and immediately soaked them with bottled spring water. The next day, I strained the beans and simmered them with a fresh batch of bottled spring water. Within 45 minutes my black beans were plump and soft, to perfection: a triumph!
Effortlessly cook dried black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans… you name it!
Now I cook a pot of dried beans every week: extraordinarily creamy cannellini beans, flavorful black beans, meaty corona beans, colorful borlotti beans, petite Umbrian chickpeas, tiny white purgatorio beans… the list is as long as it is delicious. And every time my pot of beans simmers on the stove, I give thanks to Mr. McGee. Without him, I might have done the unthinkable: given up cooking dried beans altogether.
One last trick: use baking soda for extra-creamy beans!
If you want your beans to have an extra-creamy texture, you can add baking soda to the cooking water. This is helpful if you want to cook beans for making dips, such as chickpeas for hummus; or if you are cooking very large beans such as Gigante beans. But beware that baking soda can make your beans turn to mush in no time, so keep a close eye on them as they cook. Also, very little goes a long way – see cook’s note below.
Here are some scrumptious recipes that might inspire you to cook a pot of dried beans!
Cooking dried beans
makes 4 to 6 cups (depending on the bean variety)
active time: 15 min
- 1 lb (455 g) dried beans (approximately 2 cups, depending on the size of the beans) – soaked 12 to 24 hours with plenty of bottled spring water
- more bottled spring water for cooking
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves – peeled and left whole
- 2 large bay leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (optional – see cook’s note)
- Step 1: Drain the beans and place in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add enough bottled spring water to cover the beans by 2″. Bring to a boil and skim any foam that forms at the surface. Add the olive oil, garlic and bay leaves (and baking soda, if using) and stir well. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours until beans are tender. The cooking time will depend on the beans’ variety (larger ones take more time to cook), dryness and age.
- Cook’s note: Use baking soda only if you want extra-creamy beans or to cook very large beans such as Gigante beans. Baking soda will reduce the cooking time and tend to make the beans mushy, so be vigilant.
- Step 2: Remove bay leaves and garlic. Either let cool in their liquid and refrigerate for up to 5 days or drain and proceed with your recipe of choice. Always reserve the cooking water; it’s very flavorful and can be used as a stock.