It is so easy to buy canned beans. Just pop them into whatever you are making and be done with it. But I find canned beans to be mushy and most brands are full of unnecessary salt.
The first time my partner suggested that I start from dried beans, I thought him crazy. He grew up in the caribbean, Puerto Rico specifically, where beans are a staple. Red beans and rice, black beans and rice, arroz con gandules, etc. I thought he was nuts to suggest that I add something that would make my cooking time longer. While it does mean thinking about things ahead of time, starting from dried beans is healthier, and it is truly simple. I often do multiple types at once and freeze what I am not using immediately. Freezing beans in the winter and spring means a lot less cooking in the summer and beans are ready for summer salads in the time they take to thaw.
Dried beans are also less expensive. One bag of dried beans gives you 2 1/2x the amount as a can for just as much money, if not less.
Beans are a great source of protein and fiber. They can be added to pretty much anything.
Some dried beans do not need to be soaked overnight, shortening the process – lentils (a super-food legume), split peas and black-eyed peas.
Cooking dried beans
Open and sort through your bag of beans. I have never had any stones in any of my bags of beans, but I do know people who have, so do a quick check.
Rinse your beans 3-4 times.
Place in a large bowl and cover completely with cold water, leaving about an inch of water between the top of the beans and the waterline. If any beans float, discard them.
Leave to soak overnight. (Soaking beans in cold water will remove the elements in the beans that cause gas.)
Rinse the beans and place in a large pot. Cover with water, leaving about an inch of water on top and bring to a boil. Sometimes, as the beans are boiling, a foam appears, simply skim off and discard.
Bring to a high simmer and cook until beans are done. For some beans, like cannellini or pinto this can take 15-20 minutes. Chickpeas and large red kidney beans can take 30-45 minutes.
You can use beans immediately, or freeze them.
Adding to soup
If I am making a soup with beans, I often soak my beans overnight and then simply add the beans to the broth before the other ingredients, cooking the beans until soft in the broth. The beans will have more flavor from the broth and they do not get as mushy as boiling them in water and then adding them to your soup.
Using a pressure cooker
There are moments that I have had to use a pressure cooker to make beans because I forgot to soak them overnight. Just sort and rinse the beans then add them to the pressure cooker. Cover with cold water, with 2-3 inches of water over the bean level. Place lid on pressure cooker and place cooker on stove on medium high. My pressure cooker has a button that pops up when it is time to turn the heat off. It will “un-pop” when it is cool enough to open.
While this does work, I have less control on how “done” I want my beans. Cannellini beans tend to fall apart using a pressure cooker and chickpeas tend to be under-done.
Lentils, split-peas and black-eyed peas
These legumes do not need to be soaked overnight first. Simply rinse and cook in either the dish you are making (see adding to soup above), in broth for flavor or in water until soft.
Important note: Dried beans do have a shelf life. If beans are too old, they do not cook properly and can be mealy. Try to use dried beans within a year.