Kitchen Tips: How to cook dried beans

By | February 26, 2013

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I gave up on dried beans two years ago. It was just.not.working.

In the early months after our wedding, when my enthusiasm over all things homemade was sky-high, I tried my hand at dried chickpeas. Dried kidney beans, too. I soaked them, rinsed them, and cooked them. But after four or five hours of cooking, they were still too tough to eat (and don’t think I wasn’t tasting them every half-hour). This happened several times, and finally, after a particularly unappealing bean salad of partially cooked beans, I called it quits.

From then on, it was cans only.

I mentioned this to my mother-in-law a few months ago, and she promised to solve the problem during her then-upcoming trip to help us after the birth of our son. She arrived with photocopied instruction sheets, lots of recipes that call for beans, and a huge bag of white beans to start us off. She was prepared.

And she did solve the problem, along with a bit of help from Google (probably while she was holding the baby and making us dinner). So where did I go wrong, and how can you make sure to get it right? Let me show you.

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See that pot down there? It has water in it, enough to cover the (pre-soaked) chickpeas by a couple of inches. But that isn’t just any water…it’s filtered water. I think I’ll repeat that. FILTERED! WATER! IS THE SOLUTION!

Here in Israel, we have hard water. I don’t know enough about the chemical makeup to explain what that is exactly, but it does things. The laundry comes out kind of stiff, especially if you don’t follow a wash cycle with some time in the dryer. And the other thing hard water does? It makes it impossible to cook dried beans.

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So avoid the hard water. Use filtered to soak your beans, use it to rinse them, and use it as your cooking water. If you need to add water to the pot during cooking, don’t forget to make it filtered then, too.

Cooking times vary depending on the bean. I’ve been using Norene Gilletz‘s chart, which suggests cooking navy (white) beans, kidney beans, and black beans for 1½-2 hours and chickpeas for 2-3 hours. As you try different beans, make notes for yourself about how long they took. I find that I tend to need the upper end of those suggested cooking times, but start tasting for doneness at the lower end and see how it goes.

How do you know when your beans are done? They’ll be soft enough to eat without any effort. It’s kind of like tasting pasta for doneness. When it’s done, it’s done. You can tell.

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And lest you think you have to cook a fresh pot every time you need beans for a recipe — nope, you can freeze them. And by that I mean you can freeze them after soaking but before cooking OR after cooking. (You can thank Norene for that tip, too.) I cook 2 cups of dried beans at a time (the yield is about six cups), use what I need, and freeze the rest in 1- and 2-cup portions.

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Making your own beans is much cheaper than buying them ready-made in a can. The cans are obviously convenient, but with a little advance planning, you can have a supply of beans on hand that taste better and cost less.

If you aren’t in Israel, by the way, your water is probably fine as it is, and this is probably not such an exciting tip (sorry). But for those of you who do live here, and for the ones who have been frustrated by beans that refuse to cook, welcome. Welcome to the world of beans.

What’s that, you wanted some bean recipes? Sure thing.

Chickpeas

White beans

Black beans

One year ago: Chewy red velvet cookies with white chocolate chips


17 Comments

This American Bite on February 26, 2013 at 4:39 am.

Thanks for linking to my vegetarian chili. I have some beans soaking in the kitchen right now for another batch.

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This American Bite on February 26, 2013 at 4:45 am.

I always wondered why cooking chickpeas in the US and Israel was different and never thought of the water. You and I have very different methods. I wrote a How to cook chickpeas post last year too – I’d love to hear what you think of my method.

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Debbie Niskin on February 27, 2013 at 1:14 pm.

This is such an important post for people with children or anybody who wants to be healthy. Most canned food is lined with a cancer-causing ingredient that seals the can. A few companies, like Eden, have gone to a more expensive way.

So, your post not only saves money, but health too. I’m making ane of your recipes today.

Thanks

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Tali Simon on February 27, 2013 at 2:49 pm.

Wow. I didn’t know that about canned foods. Scary!

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nossi on February 26, 2013 at 6:14 am.

Have you ever tried soaking your beans in a salt water solution? Ie a brine? It’s cook’s illustrated way of cooking beans…
now you got me intrigued on the whole hard water thingy, so here’s what I think.
Hard water is water that has a lot of dissolved positive ions, namely magnesium and calcium ions…The skins of beans also have a lot of magnesium and calcium ions, which kind of slow down how much water can penetrate into the bean during cooking. By brining your beans, the sodium ions replace the magnesium and calcium ions, which allow the beans to retain their skins, and cook up better.
So I was thinking, since you’re essentially soaking the beans in a calcium/magnesium water solution, maybe you’re making it harder for the beans to cook because there’s so much of the stuff that prevents the beans from cooking properly (ie the hard stuff in the water)…so if you use the brine, you might be able to counter that…
they recommend 3 tablespoons salt per 4 quarts water, but maybe since you’d be using hard water, you might want to use more…
You’ve got me curious, so now you have to let me know what happens!

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rivka on February 26, 2013 at 9:06 am.

that sounds like an interesting idea. i add some baking soda to the water and it seems to be doing the trick (rinse before using)

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Tali Simon on February 26, 2013 at 9:59 am.

Rivka – I’ve heard that baking soda helps with the softening, but that it also kills the B vitamin thiamine.

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Tali Simon on February 26, 2013 at 9:57 am.

I’ve read in a several places that adding salt actually keeps the beans from softening (so it should only be added later, when you’re combining the cooked beans with your other recipe ingredients).

I feel really enlightened, though. Thanks. :)

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stephanie/the kosher foodies on February 28, 2013 at 3:51 pm.

ugh, i know i should be using dried beans for so many reasons!!

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Yiska Ben Avraham on March 3, 2013 at 11:53 pm.

IT’S THE WATER?!?!?

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Cheryl on April 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm.

It’s looking good!!! Thank you so much! I am lovIng your blog! I can’t wait to tell my friends. Shabbat shalom :)

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Tania Cohen on May 9, 2013 at 1:07 pm.

Thanks so much for posting.
I live in Efrat and have the same problem with beans coming out hard, even after pressure cooking or slow cooking in the chulent pot.
Tell me – can you use bottled mineral water or must you use filtered water?
Tania

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Tali Simon on May 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm.

Bottled mineral water should achieve the same result. When you try it, please let me know!

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Rena on June 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm.

NO WAY! I recently tried to make my own black beans since I can’t find any canned black beans. I literally boiled them for a whole day plus i soaked them, and they were barely soft! I must try this. I have an awesome recipe for black bean sweet potato enchiladas. From detoxinista.com. It’s so delicious and I want to make it so badly. I will give this a try! Thanks Tali!

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Tali Simon on June 30, 2013 at 5:18 am.

I know the feeling!

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Rena on June 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm.

It worked! It took me over 2 hours to get the black beans cooked though, but at least it didnt take all day!! Thanks!

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Rena on July 1, 2013 at 10:54 pm.

ok, it didnt fully work :( some are still hard, ill try it again, might just needed more time

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