Canned beans are convenient, and I certainly find myself reaching for them in kitchen emergencies…but they are also expensive, mushy, flavorless, and laced with BPA. For best results in any recipe, used dried beans! They take just a little bit of advanced planning.
First of all — when purchasing beans, be sure to check the expiration date. Beans have a tendency to sit on shelves for a while, but the older they are, the longer they will take to cook. Choose the package with the farthest expiration date in the future you can find, two years would be ideal. Using the freshest possible beans will drastically cut down on cooking time. I usually buy my beans in the bulk section of the grocery store, but when I want to splurge I head to the Rancho Gordo website for wonderfully fresh and interesting heirloom varieties.
Several hours before you plan to start cooking — such as in the morning as you get ready for work — you will want to begin soaking the beans. You could then just put them in a bowl of room-temperature water to let them soak, but unless they are extremely fresh beans, they’ll still have to cook on the stovetop for a while. You’re also missing out on an important opportunity to season them! This is why I like to do a quick boil. Here is a demonstration:
First, sort through them and give them a thorough rinse to remove any extraneous debris.
I am planning to use these beans for a vegetarian chili recipe, so I have chosen pinto and black beans. The black beans will turn everything purple, so I soaked them in two separate pots — but mixing them together would not affect the taste.
Add beans to a pot and cover with about 3-4 inches of water. You can always add more water later if necessary. Add salt, pepper, perhaps a bay leaf and whatever other seasonings you’d like. For my recipe, I used a whole guajillo chili, chili powder, cayenne, ground cumin, and some oregano.
Bring this mixture to a boil, cover, and turn off heat.
After several hours of soaking, test the beans by tasting one. At this point, they will need some additional cooking — up to an hour depending on the variety and their freshness, but hopefully less. Add more water as necessary to the pot, bring to a boil and simmer to desired texture.
If you are using them for a soup or stew, don’t bother with the final simmering– they should be ready to be added directly to the pot after soaking.
Do not bother changing the water or rinsing — you will lose important flavor, as well as nutrients that have leeched out into the water.
I started soaking my pinto beans around noon, and by 5 they looked like this. I just stirred them into my chili — and dinner was ready by 6. Yum!