Basic Beans: Stovetop and Slow-Cooker Method

A small strip of kombu can make your beans easier to digest.

Black beans and herbs in a pot

Makes four servings
Prep time: Four to 12 hours to soak
Cook time: 45 minutes to 2 1/2 hours


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


  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.

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.

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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