- Nutrition -

How to Cook Beans

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Black beans and herbs in a pot

Economical and versatile, dried beans are easier to prepare than you might think.

Beans have gotten a bit of a bad rap. Not only do they bear the ignominy of that rhyme about musical fruit, but they’re also excluded from many diets, in part because they can be hard to digest.

Yet these legumes boast many important health-boosting nutrients, including fiber, folate, and antioxidants. The soluble fiber in beans can help stabilize blood-glucose levels, and eating them has been linked to improved gut health and reduced risk of heart disease. Beans also deliver a high dose of protein, so they’re a great choice for Meatless Mondays.

Thanks to their mild flavor and versatility, beans work well with different cuisines and flavor profiles.

Because many people experience uncomfortable digestive symptoms after eating beans — due to the fiber as well as antinutrient proteins called lectins — soaking is advised to ease the bloat. This can also increase the bioavailability of health-promoting vitamins and minerals. (For more on this, see “All About Antinutrients.”) Although you have to allow time for soaking, doing so will cut down on cooking time.

Most of the recipes we feature here call for cooked beans prepared according to the basic recipe on the next page; the soup incorporates bean-cooking time into the recipe but uses the same fundamental technique. Enjoy!

Know Your Beans

Bean Varieties

Adzuki beans: Nutty yet mild, these small, red, relatively fast-cooking beans are a staple in Japanese and Chinese dishes. Soak 1 to 2 hours. Cook 50 to 60 minutes on stovetop; in a slow cooker, cook 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low.

Black beans: Rich in magnesium, these legumes pair well with smoky flavors, such as cumin or bacon. Soak 6 to 8 hours. Cook 75 to 90 minutes on stovetop; in a slow cooker, cook 3 hours on high or up to 8 hours on low. 

Black-eyed peas: These tan-colored beans, with their eponymous black “eyes,” are a great source of iron. Soaking is not necessary. Cook 45 to 60 minutes on stovetop; in a slow cooker, cook 3½ hours on high.

Cannellini beans: These legumes are larger and thicker-skinned than great northern beans, so they stay creamier when cooked. Soak 6 to 8 hours. Cook 60 to 90 minutes on stovetop; in a slow cooker, cook 3 hours on high.

ChickpeasAlso called garbanzo beans, these legumes are popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. Soak 12 to 24 hours. Cook 2 to 4 hours on stovetop; in a slow cooker, cook 3½ to 6 hours on high or 8 to 12 hours on low.

Great Northern beans: These small, mild beans absorb flavors, making them ideal for soups and stews. Soak 6 to 10 hours. Cook 90 to 120 minutes on stovetop; in a slow cooker, cook 2½ hours on high or 5½ to 6½ hours on low.

Kidney beans: These common red beans are widely enjoyed around the world and make a regular appearance in chili and soup recipes. Soak 6 to 8 hours. Cook 60 to 90 minutes on stovetop; in a slow cooker, cook 3 hours on high.

Scarlet Runner beans: Large and starchy, these vibrant beans can be a substantial protein source in vegetarian dishes. Soak 10 to 24 hours. Cook 3 to 4 hours on stovetop; in a slow cooker, cook 9 to 12 hours on low.

Basic Beans: Stovetop Method 

Pot of black beans and herbsPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman
Makes four servings
Prep time: Four to 12 hours to soak
Cook time: 45 minutes to 2 1/2 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried beans
  • 2 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tsp. sea salt, divided
  • 1 6-in. strip kombu
  • Fresh herbs (optional)

Directions

  1. Rinse the beans well in a strainer, then pour into a bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Stir in the lemon juice and 2 teaspoons sea salt, and allow to soak. (See “Know Your Beans,” above, for specific soaking and cooking times.)
  2. Drain the beans and rinse well, then place in a large pot. Add the kombu and water to cover by 3 inches. If desired, tie a bundle of fresh herbs together with kitchen twine and add to the pot.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and gently simmer, covered, for recommended cooking time. As the beans cook, use a slotted spoon to skim any foam from the surface. Add more water as necessary to keep beans from drying out.
  4. Test often for doneness. The type of bean and its age will influence cooking time, so start checking beans after about 40 minutes; when they are tender but still al dente, stir in remaining teaspoon of sea salt. (The beans will start to cook faster during the last 15 minutes; test more often so they don’t overcook. If you plan to store and reheat the beans, leave them slightly undercooked.)
  5. Drain the beans. Reserve cooking liquid if ­required for a recipe; otherwise discard along with the kombu and herbs. Add beans to your favorite recipes or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days or in the freezer for up to a month.

Basic Beans: Slow-Cooker Method

After soaking the beans as described for the stovetop method, add them, along with the kombu, the herbs, and enough water to cover by 3 inches, to a slow cooker. Cook for the recommended time for your chosen beans (see the chart at left). Check for doneness after two hours on high or four to five hours on low. Allow the beans to cool down in their cooking liquid; this gives them time to absorb even more flavor.

Tip: Kombu contains enzymes that help break down the starches in beans and make them easier to digest; it also adds a bit of umami, or savory flavor.

Beans and Greens

Plate of white beans with cooked greensPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman
Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus time to soak and cook beans
Cook time: 10 to 12 minutes

Ingredients

For the beans

  • 1 cup dried cannellini or great northern beans prepared as instructed above, with the following added to the cooking liquid:
  • Fresh herb bouquet of 2 sprigs rosemary, 6 sprigs thyme, and 6 sage leaves
  • 8 cloves garlic, smashed 
  • 1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf

For the greens

  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle over greens when done
  • 3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Pinch red-pepper flakes
  • 2 to 3 bunches kale or other dark leafy greens, washed and torn (about 8 cups)
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup water, bean-cooking liquid, or vegetable broth
  • 2 tbs. tomato paste
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. After cooking the beans, remove and discard the garlic, kombu, bay leaf, and herb bouquet with a slotted spoon.
  2. To start the greens, heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red-pepper flakes and sauté until the garlic is just golden, about 20 seconds.
  3. Add the greens to the pan, along with a pinch of salt. Sauté until the greens are wilted, about four minutes. You may need to add the greens in two or three batches, waiting until one batch wilts down before adding the next.
  4. Stir in the water and tomato paste, cover, and simmer until the greens are tender but still green, about three minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Taste; you may want to add a bit of salt.
  5. To assemble the dish, stir 2 cups of the cooked beans into the greens. (Store leftover beans for another use.) Serve topped with Parmesan cheese and a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Beans With Fennel and Almonds

Bowl of white beans with fennel and almondsPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman
Makes six servings
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus time to soak and cook beans

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked great northern, cannellini, or scarlet runner beans
  • 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • ½ cup grated Asiago cheese
  • ½ cup chopped, lightly toasted almonds
  • ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 tbs. chopped mint leaves

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, add the cooked beans, fennel, onion, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss until well combined. Add the cheese and toasted almonds and toss again.
  2. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and mint. Toss lightly once more and serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Tip: Short on time? While home-cooked dried beans are more economical and often more flavorful, canned beans will work fine in most recipes. Look for organic beans in BPA-free cans, and check sodium levels, which can be high in canned varieties.

Costa Rican Black-Bean Soup With Sweet Potatoes

Two bowls of soup with black beans and sweet potatoesPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman
Makes six servings
Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes, plus time to soak beans
Cook time: 75 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups diced yellow onions
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 1 1/2 tsp. seeded and finely diced jalapeño pepper
  • 1 tbs. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups dried black beans, soaked, rinsed, and drained
  • 1 6-in. strip kombu
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups diced sweet potatoes (about 2 medium sweet potatoes)
  • 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

    1. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, and sauté until translucent, about four minutes. Add the jalapeño, garlic, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and sauté for one minute. Pour in 1/2 cup of the broth and stir to loosen any bits stuck to the bottom. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
    2. Add the remaining broth, along with the black beans, kombu, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil.
    3. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and simmer briskly (bubbles should break the surface regularly) until the beans are tender, about 45 minutes. Stir in the sweet potatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer until the sweet potatoes are just tender, about seven minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove and discard the kombu, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf.
    4. Ladle 2 cups of the beans and sweet potatoes into a blender and process until velvety smooth. Stir the blended mixture back into the soup and cook until just heated through. Stir in the lime juice. Taste; you may want to add salt and a spritz of lime juice. Top with cilantro and serve.
WEB EXTRA!

Middle-Eastern Chickpea Burgers

Plate of chickpea burger and tomatoes on greensPhotos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

Makes 16 patties
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus time to soak and cook chickpeas and prepare rice
Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. minced gingerroot
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked brown basmati rice
  • 3 tbs. finely diced red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Combine the chickpeas, salt, spices, garlic, ginger, egg, olive oil, and lemon juice in a food processor and process until smooth, scraping the sides occasionally.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and fold in the rice, bell pepper, and parsley.
  • Moisten your hands to keep the mixture from sticking to them, then shape the mixture into 1/4-inch-thick patties about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Place patties on the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until they start to get dry and crisp on the outside. They will firm up as they cool. Serve.

Cook’s notes:

  • To freeze these burgers, either cooked or uncooked, stack them between layers of parchment paper, then wrap first in plastic followed by foil. (The parchment paper makes it easy to remove the desired number of burgers from the bundle. The plastic wrap helps prevent freezer burn.) Once thawed, cooked burgers can be reheated at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes; uncooked burgers can be baked as directed above.
  • For a crispy burger, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the patties for about three minutes on each side, until golden brown. For a vegan burger, substitute 1 tablespoon tahini for the egg.

MS, director of the Healing Kitchens Institute at Commonweal, is the author of several cookbooks, including The Longevity Kitchen and The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, from which some of these recipes are adapted. She lives in San Rafael, Calif.

Photos: Andrea DAgosto; Prop Styling: Alicia Buszczak; Food Stylist: Paul Jackman

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