Yes, you can get beans in a can, but they’re bulky and heavy to carry home from the store (both issues for consideration for us city-dwellers!), plus not as cost-effective and often higher in sodium. Not to mention that homemade have a much better texture and flavor than canned. But they can certainly be intimidating.
The nice thing about beans is that once you’ve figured out how to make one kind, you can pretty much make any kind. The time it takes to cook them will depend heavily on the size, but once you get the basics down, you’ll realize how easy it is. I like to make a big pot over the weekend — they’ll keep in the fridge for several days, but I also like to stick some in the freezer for a pinch.
The first step is to rinse the dried beans and pick through them for any rocks or debris. This does actually happen, since they come from the ground and so do rocks. Not a big deal; just throw them out.
Next is soaking the beans. Honestly, I don’t even soak lentils because they cook so quickly I just don’t think it’s worth it, but for larger beans, it does make them cook faster and end up softer. To soak, just cover the rinsed beans in a pot with about 2 inches of water. Some prefer to soak overnight, but I almost never think that far in advance and I’m also impatient. Thus, I usually use the hot soak method, which means that you bring the water to a boil and then turn it off for an hour or two.
After soaking, drain the soaking water. Here’s where it gets fun — you can flavor the beans as they cook in a lot of different ways. You can use broth instead of water, for example. You can add in some vegetables or a cooked meat. Or you can just make them in water, but you’ll want to add some salt to boost the flavor. If you’re thinking of adding any spices, hold off until after they’re cooked and you’ve drained the cooking water. It’s okay if you want to stick to just water or broth for the first try, but get creative as you keep making it.
Cover the soaked beans again with a couple of inches of liquid. Cover the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil, then turn it all the way down to low. Cook it with the cover on until the beans are soft. A small bean like a lentil will cook very quickly, probably between 20-30 minutes, whereas a larger one will take longer. Once you can pierce them with a fork, taste them and see how soft they are. You’ll likely want them a bit firmer (think al dente pasta) if you’re going to continue to cook them as part of a recipe, but if you’re pureeing or mashing them (think hummus), you’ll want them softer so they blend up nicely.
Once they’re cooked to your liking, simply drain and prepare as you like. Here are a few recipes you can try:
Lentils and tomatoes
Avocado and white bean tomato sandwich
Black bean burrito bowl
Spicy weeknight turkey chili
Curried lentils with butternut squash
Santa Fe stuffed pepper
What’s your favorite way to prepare beans?