If you avoid cooking dry beans because you suspect the process is too involved, you may be surprised to know that actual preparation requires only a few minutes. It is important to plan ahead, as dry beans -- with the exception of lentils, black-eyed peas and split peas -- must be soaked before cooking. Although dry and canned beans are rich in protein and fiber, cooked dry beans have a flavor and textural edge over canned beans. In addition, dry beans are sodium free. Beans are the basis for a variety of simple dishes your family will enjoy, and you can be sure that you're providing good nutrition as well as flavorful food.
Place the dry beans in a large strainer. Rinse the beans with cool water and pick through them carefully to remove any broken, cracked or misshapen beans. You may also come across a few twigs or other plant debris.
The traditional method of soaking requires a few hours, but it's also the easiest way to soak dry beans. To soak a 1 lb. bag of dry beans, place the beans in a soup kettle and cover them with 8 to 10 cups of water. Place the lid on the pot and let it sit overnight or for at least eight hours. Use a large kettle, as the beans double or triple in size by morning. Drain the beans and change the water occasionally if you have time. While changing the water isn't critical, doing so can remove some of the compounds that create intestinal gas. Pour the beans into a colander after soaking. If you have a large pot with a heatproof strainer lid such as a pasta pot or a drainer, you can easily drain the beans pouring hot water out of the lid or by lifting out the drainer.
Return the drained beans to the soup kettle, then cover the beans with about 6 cups of fresh water. If you prefer, you can save time and cook the beans in the soaking water. Most cooks though prefer to add fresh water for cooking. Add seasonings if you like, but wait to add salt until the beans are fully cooked, as salt toughens the beans. Dry salad dressing and seasoning mix is an easy way to get a balance of savory seasonings. Check the packet label and add the seasoning mix at the end if it contains salt. Bring the water to a full boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and let the beans cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check the beans occasionally, as you may need to add more liquid. The beans are done when you can easily mash them with a fork.
Long soaking is preferable because a long soak results in beans with a smooth, even texture. A long soak also helps to remove more of the gas-causing compounds found in beans. If you are short on time, you can do a quick soak in about an hour. To do a quick soak, bring about 8 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 lb. of cleaned beans to the boiling water and continue to boil the water for two full minutes. Remove the kettle from the heat and cover the kettle. Let the beans sit in the water, then drain the beans. Replace the liquid with fresh water and cook as directed.
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M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.