Cooking Beans from Scratch: The Secret’s in the Salt
Cooking beans from dried isn’t hard or complicated at all. I used to think it was intimidating and then we did it in culinary school and I felt so silly for having been wary. Just cook the beans in plenty of salted boiling water. That’s it. And yes, salted. Unless you live in an area with very hard water, salt won’t make the beans tough or lengthen the cooking time, and it will make them a lot tastier. I just add a big pinch when I add the beans to the water.
If I could banish one urban legend from the miasma of urban legends that is the internet, it would be this one. Salt and beans. Beans and salt. They love each other. They need each other. Spread the word!
And, please don’t tell anyone, but I almost never soak my beans. I just put them in a pot with plenty of water to cover, and the aforementioned pinch of salt. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer so the hulls won’t get shaken off of the beans with too-violent bubbling, and cook them until they are done. That’s it.
Of course, if you want to cut your cooking time by a lot, and you are good at planning ahead the night before, then by all means, soak away. I’m lucky because I get my beans from a place with high turnover—the bulk aisle of a local health-food oriented grocery store in Portland, Oregon—so my beans don’t take all that long to cook, even when I skip soaking. You see, the longer ago that the beans were harvested, the longer they will take to cook, and they may not become as soft in the end. If you suspect your beans are old, I would definitely recommend soaking overnight before you cook them. And if beans make you gassy, that recommendation goes double: soaking can help break down some of the gas-causing sugars (called oligosaccharides) in the beans.
But if your beans are old, do try and find a place to get better beans. Don’t buy the dusty plastic sack of Goya sitting on the bottom of the Safeway shelf.
If you decide to soak your beans, be sure to drain them and rinse them after soaking, and cook them in nice clean water. The soaking water can get a little oogy.
If you decide not to soak your beans, be prepared to replenish the water once or twice during the cooking time. Other than that, you can just hang out. Do some laundry. Write a blog post. The beans will cook, cook, cook away with very little help from you. There are a lot of ways that people will say to test the beans to see if they’re done, like smooshing them against the side of the pot. My favorite: eat one. Or three, just to make sure.
Beans will increase in volume by about a factor of three when you cook them from their dried state. Thus, a half-cup of dried beans equals one can of canned beans. I’ve found that chickpeas increase a little bit more than other beans do.