Dried beans are economical to purchase and convenient to store. They have a long shelf life when placed in an air-tight container and stored in a cool, dry place. Beans are a high-fiber, heart-healthy food that can be used in a variety of ways, such as casseroles, salads, soups and as a substitute for meat in a main dish. Preparing and cooking dried beans can take several hours. One helpful hint is to soak the beans in water the night before you want to use them. In the morning, drain the beans and refrigerate them until it's time to prepare your meal.
Pick through the beans carefully and throw out any improperly formed or discolored beans or any foreign matter. Place the good beans in a large bowl and cover with water. Swish the beans through the water with your hand to wash them. Drain and repeat until the water is clean.
Cover the beans with about two inches of cold water. Soak them for four to eight hours. Larger beans require a longer soaking period.
Drain the soaking water and transfer the beans to a heavy cooking pot.
Cover with water and bring the water to a steady simmer -- not a boil. Put a lid on the pot and simmer for about two hours or until the beans are tender.
To determine if the beans have soaked long enough, slice a bean in half and inspect the center. If it's opaque, continue soaking. Add a pinch of baking soda to your cooking pot if you have hard water. Beans are more tender when prepared in soft water. Wait until the beans are cooked to add salt or other acidic seasonings. Adding salt at the beginning of the cooking process may toughen the beans and prolong the cooking time. For a quick soak, place washed beans in the cooking pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and maintain the boil for three minutes. Turn off the heat, place a lid on the pot and let the beans rest for one to two hours; then cook normally. Each cup of dry beans yields about two cups of cooked beans. Refrigerate leftover beans and liquid for up to five days.