Beans & Greens: Step One, Cook the Beans!

by Chance on December 5, 2015

Beans and Greens with Mizithra Cheese

I like the combination of beans and greens. One is slowly cooked over time and the other is quickly cooked before you’re ready to eat. This will be part one for making this dish: how to cook dried beans. I always cook my own beans (pinto, black, navy beans and chickpeas). There’s a few reasons for that. There are those that believe that soaking the beans makes them more digestible, removing toxic enzyme inhibitors from the outside and others claim that the increased digestibility makes them less… bothersome. I think there’s some merit to both of these trains of thought. Primarily though, it makes them taste better. To me, canned beans taste like cans. Plus, they’re often oversalted and lose most of their texture. I once bought refried beans in a can and they smelled like dog food to me. No offense if canned beans are your thing, but they don’t suit me. My mom made beans from scratch growing up and it’s one of the first things I learned to cook once I was out of school.

Canned chickpeas are pretty ok, but no one I know who has ever cooked chickpeas from scratch buys canned anymore. Chickpeas cooked from scratch are a completely different bean than the one in the can. They’re slightly buttery and their texture is silky and smooth. Completely worth the effort, in my opinion. (If you are determined to use canned chickpeas, they are greatly improved by simmering them for 10 minutes or so in their can liquid.)

Probably my last hold out was to make a multi-bean chili, but now I cook a lot beans at a time and freeze them in 4 cup portions. Yes, I do have a chest freezer and if you want to make things from scratch, it’s a great investment and can reduce the overall time you spend making individual things. The “recipe” here for cooked beans can be applied to any bean and I have noted the seasonings that I use for each type of bean. If you’re cooking beans in bulk and want to store them, let the beans cool and them portion then into the portions you like. I use plastic containers since the food will not be heated in them. This allows me to turn them upside down, run a little warm water on the outside and dump out the ice block of beans. If it’s chickpeas, I usually spray hot water on them to thaw them quickly. If it’s other beans, I put the block in a saucepan with a tiny bit of water, cover and reheat them on low heat. You can freeze in mason jars that don’t have shoulders, but then you have to thaw the entire container at room temperature (takes forever!) and that’s less convenient. If you do choose to freeze in mason jars, make sure that you observe the “fill” line at the top of the jar to leave plenty of headroom and remember to just set the lid on top. If you screw the lid on, your jar will bust.

2.5 pounds of chickpeas, post soaking 2.5 pounds of chickpeas, post soaking
Cooking Dried Beans
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
General instructions on how to cook dried beans
Recipe type: Main Dish
  • Beans: any amount from a 1lb bag to 5 lbs
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Pots - size depending on how many you're cooking
  • Optional seasonings: crushed red peppers, garlic, onion, celery, smoked paprika, sofrito, etc.
  1. The night before you want to cook your beans, they should be soaked. This will greatly decrease your cooking time as well as improve the texture of the beans.
  2. Most instructions will tell you to clean and sort your beans. 20 years ago when I started cooking beans from scratch, I would occasionally find a stone. Beans in the store now are well cleaned and well picked over. I eyeball the beans as I pour them into the pot. If I see a stone, I go through them more carefully.
  3. Empty your beans into a strainer and quickly rinse them off with your sink sprayer. If you notice that the water is coming off dirty, clean them more thoroughly. (This literally never happens to me.)
  4. Empty your beans into a pot. You will want a heavy bottomed pot with ample headroom left over once the beans are in the pot and covered with water. I use at least a 6 quart pot. If I'm making 5 pounds of beans, I use to 2 extra large pots (they don't have a marking on the bottom!) that must be 8-10 quarts. If any beans float, throw them out.
  5. Cover your beans with water by at least 2 inches. I always just fill the pot all the way up to the brim. They will swell overnight, soaking up a lot water and you want them to stay submerged. Let stand overnight.
  6. The next day, drain off all the water. Refill the pot with fresh water and cover the beans by 1-2 inches. You can always add water, but you can overcook the beans if you add way to much and try to boil it off. You can easily add water while they are cooking AS LONG AS IT IS HOT WATER. If you add cold water while the beans are cooking, the beans will get tough and it will take a lot longer to cook because you have dropped the temperature of the water.
  7. Add salt and seasoning to the pot. Yes, I said SALT. I don't know why there are instructions not to salt beans while they cook. I've read numerous claims that it makes beans tough. It absolutely, unequivocally does not. It is next to impossible to properly season beans AFTER they have been cooked. Trust me. I've made hundreds of pots of beans and it's a bad idea.
  8. For a small 6 quart pot, I would start with 2 teaspoons of salt. For a larger pot with 2.5 lbs of beans, I would start with at least a Tablespoon of salt. Salt is subjective, so if that scares you, definitely start with less and work your way up. Stir the salt in and taste the water. It should be slightly salty.
  9. Put the bean pot on medium to high heat and bring it to a boil. Your goal is to get it up to temperature and then turn it down to a simmer. I put a lid on the pot half on and half off so that all my water doesn't boil away but the heat isn't too concentrated either.
  10. I should note here that some beans foam. Chickpeas especially make a lot of foam and this should be skimmed off while they're cooking or your pot might overflow. I use a large spoon, hold the pot lid upside down and dump the foam in that, walk the pot lid to the sink and dump, rinse the lid and replace on the pot.
  11. Cook the beans until they're done. This is a different moment for all beans. In my experience, navy beans (the smallest bean!) take the longest soak and the longest cook on barely a simmer to be done without crunchy bits in the middle. I think the fastest cooking are chickpeas. So, let it simmer for at least an hour. Taste a bean. If it's hard in the middle, spit it out and keep simmering. A general rule for pinto and black beans is that if you blow on the skin and it splits and curls up, the bean is done. No matter what though, taste the beans. Check for salt. Make sure it is comfortably salty for you while they are cooking. Turn the heat off, move the beans off the heat and put the lid on. I usually let them sit for about 30 minutes that way.
  12. Note: You can soak in the morning and cook in the evening, soak times are approximate.
  13. Double Note: I like to season chickpeas with nothing but salt. Pintos I add salt, ¼-1/2 tsp (approximately) crushed red peppers and a finely chopped onion for about every 2 pounds of beans, black beans I add a bay leaf, 2 cloves of mashed and minced garlic and ¼-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper for about every 2 pounds of beans. My mom also adds finely chopped celery and red bell pepper to her beans and it's delicious too. The variations are endless!
2.5 pounds of chickpeas, post cooking 2.5 pounds of chickpeas, post cooking

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