Cooking dried beans for the faint of heart

Even before I adopted a whole food, vegan diet I cooked a lot of bean dishes. I mostly used canned beans because my attempts at cooking dried beans were pathetic, quite frankly. Either they were still way too hard at the end of their cooking time, or occasionally they’d cook down into mush, but I don’t think I ever hit the sweet spot until I tried this method of cooking them in a slow cooker. I found this in Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson, a book I highly recommend you add to your plant-based library. This technique is for making plain beans in bulk so you can refrigerate them to use quickly, or freeze in containers for use later.


Step 1: soaking

Perfect beans start with soaking. It allows them to cook faster and makes the skins softer. I use a quick soak method that only takes an hour.

Measure out a pound (500g) of beans then rinse and pick them over for pebbles and twigs. Place in a heat proof container with 2 tablespoons of salt and 8 cups (2 litres) of boiling water. Stir to dissolve the salt and set aside for 1 hour.

You may have heard that beans should not be salted until the end of their cooking time to prevent them staying hard, but it turns out that soaking in a brine results in softer skins and faster cooking. It seems like a lot of salt, but the vast majority of it is drained and rinsed off.

Drain and rinse thoroughly before placing the beans into the slow cooker pot.

Step 2: cooking

Add 8 – 10 cups (2 litres) of boiling water to the pot. This seriously reduces the time required to cook the beans because the beans start cooking right away, rather than waiting for the water to come up to temperature. I don’t add any salt or other seasonings at this stage. Set the slow cooker on high and forget about it for at least 3 hours. Cooking times are notoriously unreliable and can depend on the hardness of your water, the type and age of the beans and your altitude, so will require a bit of trial and error. I would use the following chart, from Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker as a guide to when to start checking the beans for done. I’ve found that black beans take just over 3 hours and chickpeas can take up to 6. Turn off the slow cooker when they are just a tiny bit firmer than you would like in a finished dish.

Bean slow cooking times (on high)

black beans: 3 hours

black-eyed peas: 3 1/2 hours

cannellini beans: 3 hours (boil 15 minutes before slow cooking)*

chickpeas: 4 hours

great northern beans: 2 1/2 to 3 hours

kidney beans: 3 hours (boil 15 minutes before slow cooking)*

lentils: 1 1/2 to 2 hours (no presoak required)

navy beans: 2 1/2 to 3 hours

pinto beans: 3 hours

split peas: 2 1/2 hours (no presoak required)

*Note: uncooked kidney and cannellini beans contain a natural toxin (lectin phytohaemagglutinin) which must be destroyed by cooking. To do this they must be boiled for at least 10 – 15 minutes before slow cooking, because the slow cooker may not be hot enough to destroy the toxin.

Step 3: cooling

It’s tempting to drain the hot beans, but resist the urge and let them cool in the cooking liquid first. This prevents them from drying out. Once they’ve cooled off, use a slotted spoon to portion them into containers for the fridge or freezer. You should yield about 6 cups of cooked beans for 1 pound of dried.

Now you’ve got a stash of perfect cooked beans that cost much less than buying canned (especially if you buy organic) and are ready to use in all kinds of recipes.

Now what?

If you aren’t used to eating a lot of beans you may be wondering what the easiest way to eat them is. I make a lot of rice and beans, or quinoa and beans, or sweet potatoes and beans, or you get the idea.

How to cook perfect grains

This is how I do the “and beans” part. Forgive the vague quantities, but I never measure anything and it hardly matters. Just a bit of this and that.

In a small saucepan mix some cooked beans, vegetable broth, sriracha sauce, soy sauce, garlic or onion, and maybe some ginger. Just heat it up and let it simmer until you’re ready to eat. I think it benefits from a bit of simmering, but if you’re in a rush don’t bother. That’s it. Simple and delicious.


featured image credit: unsplash

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