Cooking with Dried Beans: Why and How

I used to cook exclusively with dried beans.  Then I got lazy and went back to canned.  Now I’m trying to get “un-lazy” and go back to dried.  I’ve learned a little more this time around so I’m hoping that this approach will stick.

In this post, I’ll give you the why and the how of using dried beans.

So, first, you ask, why should I use dried beans?  With all the cheap and easy canned beans available in the store, why should I bother with using dried beans?

Well… let me tell you:

1.  Cost – It doesn’t get much cheaper than dried beans.  You can usually buy a bag of beans (which yields 4-5 cans worth) for about the price (or less) of one can of beans.  And don’t even get me started on buying from bulk sections or buying bulk bags yourself.  Dried beans = cheap.  Period.

2.  Salt – Canned beans generally have A LOT of sodium.  You can buy some “reduced” sodium canned beans but unless you are adding salt to your water, your dried beans won’t have any salty issues.  Dried beans = less salt intake.

3.  BPA – Bisphenol A – Generally found in the lining of MOST canned foods, BPA is thought to have many negative effects on your health.  Dried beans = no BPA.

4.  Less Waste – Yes, cans are recyclable but if you don’t have to create the waste in the first place, why do it?  Dried beans = less trash.

Now that I’ve convinced you that using dried beans is all around the best option.  Let’s talk about how to use them.

First, you’ll need to soak them.  Generally speaking, dried beans are soaked for two reasons:

1.  Soaking removes indigestible sugars that are the cause of the *unsavory* side effects of beans (i.e. beans, beans the musical fruit……)

2.  Reduces cook time.

You can do a quick hot soak or an overnight cold soak.  I soak mine overnight.  I let them soak for at least 6-8 hours, with more than an inch of water covering them.  Then in the morning or mid-day, I rinse them well and transfer them to a pot of water.  Depending on the type of bean, they will need to cook for 1-2 hours.  I haven’t tried my slow cooker yet, but I think that will be next.

You’ll want to be careful to not try and soak/cook beans that are too old.  If your beans are too old, they will never rehydrate fully and you’ll be left with hard or crunchy beans even after you cook them.  Try to use your beans within a year.

As for how many beans you cook at a time, you can cook just what you need for a recipe or you can cook more.  If you cook more, you may can them (using a pressure cooker ) or you can freeze them.  I’m planning to start cooking them (especially black and pinto beans) in larger batches and try freezing them.   I’d love to can them but as you all know, I’m intimidated by regular canning, so pressure cooker canning?  Ha!  Forget about it (for now).  For reference, about 1 1/2 cups of cooked beans are the equivalent to a can of beans.  (Handy to know for recipes that call for “a can” of beans.)

What do you think?  Do you always use dry beans or have you been canned beans cook lately like me?  What is your favorite thing to make with beans?