Go Soak Your BeansPerhaps no other factor in bean cookery is more controversial than whether beans should be soaked, and if so, how to soak them properly before cooking. “What??”, you say, “Soak the beans?” Perhaps you’ve been cooking them for years without soaking, because many cooks do, but it’s a fact that before those beans can really start cooking, they must rehydrate–the purpose of soaking.
Since a bean contains only about 15% moisture in the dry form and rehydrates to about 60% moisture when fully cooked, you can see it has to soak up a lot of water. If you fail to soak the beans first, some of your cooking time (and energy expense) is wasted while the beans rehydrate. So, our recommendation is, SOAK THE BEANS FIRST–especially the denser varieties such as kidneys, pinks and small whites. There are three methods of soaking beans: 1) Overnight soak in cold water, 2) Quick-Soak method for one hour, and 3) Our preferred Hot-Soak method–for four hours or more. (Blackeyes do not need to be soaked before cooking).
Hot-Soak (Preferred) and Quick-Soak Methods
For each pound of California dry beans, any variety, add 10 cups hot water. Remember, beans will rehydrate to at least twice their dry size, so be sure to start with a large enough pot. (Note: Up to 2 teaspoons of salt per pound of beans may be added to help the beans absorb water more evenly.) Heat to boiling, let boil two to three minutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for at least one hour (Quick-Soak Method), but preferably four hours or more (Hot-Soak Method). The longer soak time is recommended to allow more sugars to dissolve, thus helping the beans to be more easily digested. Whether you soak the beans for an hour or several hours, discard the soak water.
Blackeye “Hot Wash” Method
Blackeyes are a little different. The above soaking/cooking method is applicable for most of the beans mentioned in this book. However, recent experimentation has shown there is a better way for cooking blackeyes.
Rather than soaking blackeyes, we recommend a “hot wash”. Cover the beans with sufficient water and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Discard water and cook in beef, chicken or vegetable broth. If your recipe calls for other ingredients, add them to the broth and beans mixture just as if you were cooking with plain water. Cooking time is about 45 minutes. Try it. Even long term blackeye fans might prefer this cooking method.
Bean Cooking Basics
There are several acceptable ways of preparing dry beans for cooking. All start with a thorough inspection for damaged beans and foreign material. Although beans go through a series of threshing, sifting and cleaning processes prior to packaging, none of these ordinarily include washing, because moisture could cause the beans to start sprouting. Therefore, it is important to rinse beans before cooking, but rinsing beans before soaking is not necessary, because field dust will be removed when the soak water is discarded.
For plain boiled beans (for side dishes, casseroles etc.), place the soaked drained beans into a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with 6 cups of fresh hot water for each pound of beans, or about one inch above the beans. If desired, add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil, bacon drippings, or butter (to prevent boiling over), and 2 teaspoons salt and other seasonings. Boil gently with lid tilted (or without lid if foaming becomes a problem) until tender when taste-tested. Add hot water as needed to keep beans just covered with liquid. If ham or other salty meat is cooked with the beans, adjust salt to taste, when recipe is almost done.
It is difficult to give exact cooking time information because much depends upon altitude, bean variety, water hardness and age of the beans. The chart below of the eight California varieties shows approximate cooking times for soaked beans under normal conditions. The best rule, however, is to test frequently during cooking, then come to your own decision when beans are tender and taste “done.”
Remember, intended use dictates desired tenderness. It is better to cook beans to a firm stage for salads, freezing and longer-cooking recipes. If you plan to puree or mash the beans, cook until very soft. Cook beans to your taste preference if adding to a recipe to be cooked 20 minutes or less, since the beans will probably not soften further.
- Baby Lima Beans 1 Hour
- Blackeyes 3/4 to 1 Hour
- Dark Red Kidneys 1 to 1-1/2 Hours
- Garbanzos 1 to 1-1/2 Hours
- Large Limas 3/4 to 1 Hour
- Light Red Kidneys 1 to 1-1/2 Hours
- Pink Beans 1 to l-1/2 Hours
- Small Whites 1 to 1-1/2 Hours
The Savory Cooking Method is preferred by some cooks and recommended, especially for beans to be used as a vegetable side dish or in a salad. Drain and rinse soaked beans. Add the following for each pound of dry beans: 6 cups of hot water, 2 tablespoons oil or butter, 2 teaspoons onion salt, 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt, 1 tablespoon chicken stock base (or 3 bouillon cubes) and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper. Heat to boiling, reduce heat, and boil gently until just tender. Taste, and add salt as needed.
In recipes calling for tomatoes, chili sauce, lemon juice, vinegar or ketchup, add these at the end of the cooking time, since acidic ingredients may slow the softening of beans.
To Salt Or Not To Salt, That Is The Question
There are so many myths surrounding cooking dry beans and the use of salt is one of the biggest. I think it’s best to let an expert on the science of cooking answer the question on whether or not salt should be added to beans and when to do it. “Salt does slow the softening of dried beans, but adding it early also gets salt into the bean interior, while adding late leaves most of the salt on or near the surface. If you’re thinking ahead early enough to presoak the beans, salt in the presoaking water actually speeds the cooking, in addition to salting the beans evenly,” says Harold McGee, author of several best selling “how-to” cookbooks.
How Many Beans Do I Need?
We recognize that sometimes you want to use canned beans, sometimes dry, so here’s a handy chart to remind you of the various relationships between dry, cooked and canned beans: **
- Dry beans expand to about 2-1/2 times their original size when soaked.
- A one-pound package of dry beans equals about 2 cups dry, or 5-6 cups cooked.
- One 15 ounce can (drained) equals about 1-2/3 cups cooked beans.
Beans are not only easy to store, their earthy beauty makes them an attractive decorating option when stored in clear glass containers. To help them retain their beauty as well as their taste, follow some simple storage steps.
Dry beans should be stored at room temperature in covered containers. They’ll keep almost indefinitely. Don’t store dry beans in the refrigerator.
Cooked beans may be kept, covered and refrigerated for 4 or 5 days. If packaged in moisture and vapor-proof containers, cooked beans will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Always store canned beans in a cool, dry place.
Beans, The Musical Fruit
It seems that beans and intestinal discomfort (gas) have been forever linked. Beans may cause gas in some, but not all people. Other foods also cause gas, yet beans are often associated with the problem. What causes the problem? Fiber and complex sugars (both of which your body can adjust to with time) are the main culprits. Any doctor or dietitian will agree that if you suddenly add fiber (roughage) to your diet, it will cause gas, but the complex sugars (known scientifically as oligosaccharides) might need a little explanation. Simply stated, as beans are being digested, these sugars encounter certain enzymes in the large intestine. These enzymes are unaccustomed to dealing with those sugars in the beans, so they work harder than usual to digest; the result is gas. What can you do about it?
As you gradually increase your consumption of beans, your system will adjust.
You can also reduce the amount of the undigestible sugars in beans by the Hot-Soak method listed below. During the hot soak process, many of the undigestible, complex sugars in beans are dissolved into the soak water and go down the drain with the water. Afraid of throwing away some valuable nutrients? Don’t be. Scientists tell us that no significant amounts of essential nutrients are lost. Further, the protein and carbohydrates, the main nutritional components, are not disturbed. Certainly, for most people, any discomfort avoided and improvement in flavor gained by discarding the soak water are much more important than an insignificant loss of nutrients.
Class & Usage of Dry Beans
DARK RED KIDNEY: Cooked whole, used in the classic three-bean salad, chili and many bean casserole and soup mixtures. Dark Red Kidneys are popular worldwide. They add a splash of color and texture to any dish.
CRANBERRY: This member of the white bean family is mainly exported to Italy. Cranberry beans are excellent in Italian dishes and serve as the main ingredient in Cranberry Bean Succotash — a popular New England area recipe.
PINK: Pink beans supplement the supply of edible beans used in in canned chili and other products. Most commonly dry bagged, Pink beans are delicious when served barbecue style or cooked with spicy seasonings.
BLACK: The Black bean is a staple in such delicacies as Black Bean Soup and the Brazilian national dish Feijoada. The earthy flavor and dark color of black beans make them a favorite, simple vegetable side or main dish, and salad or salsa.
LIGHT RED KIDNEY: A lighter, tender-skinned version of the Dark Red Kidney. Featured in creole recipes for red beans and rice, Light Reds star in chili, salad, sop and refried beans.
NAVY: This versatile white bean is commonly used in canned baked beans and in dry bagged form for boiling and baking. Navy beans are perfect in soups and baked bean dishes.
PINTO: Used in the U.S. and exported to markets around the world, these medium-sized beige and brown beans are usually dry bagged or canned. They make excellent refried beans, bean paste, chili and other Mexican dishes. They are excellent in baked bean recipes and casseroles.
SMALL RED: A small version of the Dark Red Kidney, Small Reds are canned or dry bagged. They are interchangeable with kidney beans in any recipe.
GREAT NORTHERN: Great Northerns go well in baked bean recipes and casseroles. Their delicate flavor also makes them a good choice for salads.
(Courtesy Northarvest Bean Growers Association)
Information for this post was provided by:
- Northarvest Bean Growers Association
- Idaho Bean Commission
- Nebraska Dry Beans
- Michigan Bean Commission
- California Dry Bean Advisory Board
- United States Dry Bean Council