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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Classic chummus
- Pumpkin chummus
- Lemon and lime chickpea salad
- Italian vegetable soup
- Homemade falafel
- Curried eggplant and chickpeas
- White bean dip
- Pumpkin, white bean, and lentil soup
- White bean and carrot soup
- Spinach and white bean soup
- Quinoa chili
- Pasta with veggies and white bean sauce
- Pumpkin black bean soup
- Black bean, corn, and mango quinoa salad
- Spicy black bean veggie burgers
- Black bean, sweet potato, and quinoa burgers
- Vegetarian chili with black beans and corn
- Black bean brownies
One year ago: Chewy red velvet cookies with white chocolate chips
Yield: 2 cups cooked beans
- 2/3 cup dried beans
- filtered water to cover beans by a few inches, for soaking, rinsing, and cooking (if the water in your area is not hard, the tap is fine)
1. The night before: Soak beans in a large pot in enough filtered water to cover them by a few inches. Leave them to soak on the counter for 8 hours. (I use my 5.3-quart pot, the same one that I use for soups. It’s big enough to cook a triple batch of beans with plenty of room, and this way I only use one pot from start to finish.)
2. Drain beans and rinse with filtered water. Rinse out the pot, too.
3. Return the beans to the pot and add enough (fresh) filtered water to cover them by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook the beans until they’re soft enough to eat without effort. (If they taste done, they’re probably done!) I follow Norene Gilletz‘s suggestion to cook navy (white) beans, kidney beans, and black beans for 1½-2 hours and chickpeas for 2-3 hours. Taste the beans at the lower end of the range given for the cooking time, and continue cooking as needed.
4. Drain and use in whichever recipe motivated you to make your own beans. Beans can also be frozen, either before or after cooking. (Beans frozen before cooking should first be soaked for 8 hours as directed above.)