Cooking with dried beans may be a no-brainer for some, but I only recently made the transition from canned for reasons outlined below.  A few readers have asked about how I prepare and cook with dried beans, so I thought a quick post might help explain the  process.  It’s super easy!

Why cook with dried beans?
There are many good reasons to ditch the cans and cook with dried beans.  For me, the biggest motivator was to reduce packaging waste.  Sure, cans are recyclable but it’s still better not to use them in the first place.  Also, dried beans are certainly more economical than canned.  In my grocery store, one can of beans costs $1.25-$1.85.  Comparatively, one pound of dried beans costs about $1.65, and yields the equivalent of  4-5 cans.  That’s a pretty significant difference, especially when you eat a lot of bean-centric meals as we do!  Finally, canned beans often contain a significant amount of sodium.  Preparing your own beans allows you to control the amount of salt you want to use.  So, more environmentally friendly, wallet friendly, and heart friendly.  What’s not to love?

Types of beans
Essentially all types of beans that are available in cans are also available dried, although the selection varies from store to store.  In my experience, the general method for prepping the beans is pretty much the same no matter what type of beans you are making.  (At least, all of the varieties I have tried have had identical instructions.)  Do keep in mind that there are a few varieties of beans that need to be boiled for longer periods such as kidney beans and soya beans for safety reasons.  Be sure to check the instructions on the specific type you purchase.  Some stores offer bulk bins which can be even more eco-friendly than a regular bag of dried beans if you bring your own bag or container to the store.

Step 1: Soak the beans
There are two soaking methods you can use: a quick soak or an overnight soak.  I pretty much always do a quick soak because it’s, well, quick, but either option works.  Keep in mind that every set of instructions ever says to pick over the beans to remove any stones or other non-bean matter.  I’ve done this maybe once, and I’ve never eaten a stone.  Haha!

Quick Soak
Combine the beans in a saucepan or stockpot with 6-8 cups of water per pound of beans.  Bring to a boil.  Let boil for two minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for one hour.  Rinse and drain the beans.

Overnight Soak
Combine the beans in a large bowl or stockpot with 6-8 cups of cold water per pound of beans.  Let stand for 6-8 hours or overnight.  Rinse and drain the beans.

Step 2: Cook the beans
Once the beans are soaked, they need to be cooked so that they are soft and edible.  To do this, return the drained and rinsed beans to the pot and add 6 cups of water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cook the beans just until tender, between 1-2 hours.  Be careful not to overcook the beans at this stage.  You want them to be tender enough that they can be eaten as they are, but not at all mushy so that they will still have good texture when added to other dishes.  I recommend checking a few with a fork around the one hour point and continuing to check every 15 minutes or so until they are cooked to your liking.

Step 3: Storing the beans
Once cooked, the beans will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Alternatively, they can be frozen (basically indefinitely – see this post about stocking the freezer for more info.)  I tend to cook large batches at once and then freeze them so that they are always on hand when I need them.  To thaw the frozen beans, I use one of two methods.  If I’ve done a good job planning ahead, I just move the container to the fridge and let the beans thaw there.  However, if I come home one night and decide I need to use frozen beans immediately, I just use the microwave to defrost them.  Both ways work fine.

How to substitute when recipes call for canned beans
Most recipes involving beans typically call for a specified number of cans simply because that is an easy measurement to provide.  However, you can easily substitute your cooked beans by using 1½ cups cooked beans per 1 (15 oz.) can indicated in a recipe.  You may also want to consider increasing the salt in the recipe slightly, since canned beans have more sodium and the recipe may have been designed with this in mind.  However, I prefer to err on the side of less salt and use the original amount in the recipe, adding more to taste only when needed.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a bean-centric recipe just in time for Cinco de Mayo.  In the meantime, here are a few more of my favorite recipes involving beans:  (I swear I do eat other types of beans, but clearly, my heart belongs to black beans)
Mexican Lasagna
Spicy Bean Burritos
Black Bean Burgers
Tortilla Black Bean Pie
Baked Southwestern Egg Rolls