How to Cook Beans

You and many others have decided to stock up on beans. I know this, because my store is completely bone-dry of any variety of bean! Understandable, and thankfully, I already had several bags on hand. They last for a long time and there’s a lot you can do with them. But if you haven’t used them much before, here are a few pointers on how to prepare a wide variety of beans

Soaking

Before you can use beans in a recipe, they need to be softened. The typical method takes some planning (and with days home from work, this shouldn’t be that hard!)

The process below is simple, and works for most any bean variety except split peas and lentils. (Split peas need just two to three hours of soaking. Lentils need no presoaking and only 30 to 40 minutes cooking time.)

Overnight method: Wash the beans in a colander. Sort by stirring with your hands and removing any irregular beans or bits of debris (yes, it happens, so don’t skip this step).

In a large cooking pot, place the washed beans and 4 cups of water per 1 cup of beans. Cover and let stand for 8 hours or overnight. Use soaking water for cooking – do not discard!

Some recipes call for brining the beans in salt water overnight, then draining that water and cooking in fresh salted water. I find this destroys a lot of the bean flavor, so I don’t recommend it. Use the soaking water for cooking and add salt with cooking if you need to.

Quick Method: Follow the directions above, but instead of soaking overnight, place the pot on the stove and heat to boiling. Boil for 2 full minutes. Cover and remove the pot from heat and let stand for 1 hour. Beans are then ready to cook.

The only advantage I can see to the overnight soaking method is that you’ll have fewer “ragged”-looking beans, with splits on the side. If you can live with that, no need to wait all night.

Cooking Beans

One cup of dried beans yields about 2 1/2 cups of cooked beans. The cooking time varies a bit by the type of bean, size and how dry they are. Peas and smaller beans usually need less than an hour, while larger beans need 2 to 3 hours. Large dry lima beans break this rule and can become tender in just an hour. You’ll just have to test them as you go and use them when they are done to your liking.

When cooking the beans, maintain a gentle simmer. This will keep the beans from splitting. It doesn’t affect the taste as much as the texture and appearance.

It’s a good idea to add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil while cooking to control any foaming that can boil over. This foaming can be a dangerous problem when using a pressure cooker or instant pot. Never fill either of these more than 3/4 full of beans (and I never go more than half).

If you want to save some time, you can freeze cooked beans easily. Just scoop the cooked beans into a freezer bag and break off a chunk when you need them in soup or stew, or in a casserole. They’ll work just like canned beans.

Recipes

Here are three great recipes to try with your prepared beans: Navy Bean and Ham Soup, Easy Baked Beans, and Chicken Black Bean Casserole.

Navy Bean and Ham Soup

A rich, creamy bean soup, flavored with ham, sure to satisfy everyone.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Navy Bean Soup with Ham
Servings: 8 Servings
Calories: 300kcal
Author: Don Herman

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Navy Beans Cleaned, sorted and soaked overnight, or boiled for two minutes and left to stand for one hour.
  • 5 tsp Parsley dried, or 10 sprigs fresh
  • 1 tsp Thyme dried, or 2 sprigs fresh
  • 1 tsp Rosemary dried, or 2 sprigs fresh
  • 1 leaf Bay Leaf Very important!
  • 1 1/2 lbs Ham Preferably smoked ham hocks on the bone, 2 large, or regular leftover ham, cubed in 1/2" cubes.
  • 1 med Onion chopped
  • 1 clove Garlic minced
  • 8 cups Water
  • 1 med Carrot chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Butter for garnish

Instructions

  • Drain the prepared beans and reserve liquid.
  • In a large soup pot, combine all ingredients with 8 cups of water (use the bean preparation water and top off with cold water to 8 cups.) Bring to a boil, cover, and adjust the heat so the soup cooks at a gentle simmer.
  • Cook until the beans and hock are completely tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
  • If using hocks, remove from the soup and discard the bone and any fat. Chop into small pieces.
  • Place 3 cups of the soup into a blender and blend until smooth, return to pot. Or (as I do), use a stick blender for a few minutes until you get a smooth, creamy texture, with plenty of whole beans still remaining.
  • Add salt and pepper (about 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, then more as needed).
  • Ladle into bowls and add a small pat of butter to the top of each.

Notes

I tend to like things spicy, so I often add a few dashes of habanero or ghost chile sauce to the soup. 

Baked beans are always a favorite, and they are really easy to make. This recipe delivers a whole pan full for very little money.

Easy Baked Beans

Slow-baked to develop full, rich flavor. This dish can be thrown together in minutes, and left alone to bake with no fuss.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time4 hrs
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Easy Baked Beans
Servings: 8 Servings
Calories: 392kcal
Author: Don Herman

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Navy Beans Cleaned, sorted and soaked overnight, or boiled for two minutes and left to stand for one hour. Reserve liquid.
  • 1/2 cup Molasses
  • 1/4 cup Ketchup
  • 1 tsp Dry Mustard
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper
  • 1 med Onion chopped
  • 2 slices Bacon Cooked and chopped
  • Reserved bean liquid to cover

Instructions

  • In the soaking liquid, bring the beans to a boil, then simmer until tender – about 1 1/2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 300F
  • Combine all ingredients in a 2 quart covered casserole. (Or use foil).
  • Bake for 4 hours, adding liquid occasionally if needed. After two hours, remove the cover or foil and continue baking until beans are very tender.

Notes

For extra zing, add about 2 to 3 tsp of chili powder to the dish before baking.

Mexican spices make this dish fun and delicious! And it feeds an army! Keeps well, too.

Black Bean With Chicken Casserole

A tasty twist on a Mexican staple. Hearty black beans, chicken, cheese and spices, baked together for a dish that can feed an army. Freezes well, too.
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Black Bean and Chicken Casserole
Servings: 12 Servings
Calories: 410kcal
Author: Don Herman

Ingredients

  • 1 lg Green Pepper chopped
  • 1 lg Onion chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic chopped
  • 15 oz Salsa I use fresh market salsa
  • 1 tbsp Cumin ground
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Pepper
  • 1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 lb Chicken Breast boneless, skinless, cubed to 1/2"
  • 1/2 lb Black Beans Cleaned, sorted and soaked overnight, or boiled for two minutes and left to stand for one hour.
  • 4 cups Cheese Mexican blend, shredded
  • 2 16 oz Diced tomatoes, canned

Instructions

  • If using dried beans, soak them in water overnight in a covered pot.
  • In the same pot, bring the beans to a boil, then simmer for 1 1/2 hours until soft.
  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Saute green pepper, onion and garlic in oil for a few minutes, until onion begins to turn translucent. Add all ingredients except cheese and heat to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes
  • Place bean mixture in greased, lidded casserole and top with cheese.
  • Place cover on casserole (or use foil) and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.
  • Remove and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve with fresh tortillas, sour cream and chopped lettuce.

Questions, suggestions or comments? Please leave a note below!

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4 Comments

  1. Hi there, 

    I was looking on the net for some bean recipes, and that’s how I found your website. I like the first recipe on the list. The soup. It seems to be very easy to do, and it looks delicious. For sure I am going to try this weekend. I do have two questions, though. The first one is, can I replace butter with olive oil? I have high cholesterol, so I need to be careful. And the second question is, can I freeze the beans after having cooked them? I always cook too much food and when I don’t have the choice, I throw it, which is a pity.
    Thank you in advance!

    1. Both good questions. Yes, you can certainly replace the butter with olive oil – that’s a great choice. And yes, beans are the easiest thing in the world to freeze and they thaw perfectly. If you’re freezing just the beans, you can throw them in a freezer ziplock baggie and then just break a piece off whenever you need some.

  2. This article caught my interest because I had put some beans to do an overnight soak two night ago. Yesterday when i took them up to cook for my stew they were all so mushy and undefined, that i was wondering if there was a better method of preparation. From what you said here it seems I shouldn’t soak so long, rather prepare it from earlier in the day. Thanks for this article

    1. Yes, two days is way too long. They will keep absorbing water and eventually burst. Around 8 to 12 hours is the max you should go just for soaking.

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