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Bean Basics

Beans have so much going for them. They're easy to prepare, healthy, and go a long way on not much money.

Rocket Beans

Rocket Beans | Photo by Chef John

For such tiny things, beans offer some pretty big health benefits. Not only are they high in protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, and iron, but beans can also lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of cancer, and protect against ulcers.

Canned vs. Bulk Beans

Canned beans offer the convenience of being fully cooked and ready to add to any recipe--perfect for the busy home cook. And you can modify your recipe to account for any seasonings canned beans may contain (check the labels to see what's been added).

_Canned and Dry Beans

Photo by Meredith

When you scoop beans in bulk, you'll often have more choices than the canned offerings. You'll also have control over how your beans are cooked: Canned beans usually contain salt and other spices or seasonings.

Store dry beans in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.

Substituting Canned Beans for Dry Beans

If you want to use dry beans in a recipe that calls for canned, keep in mind that most dry beans will triple in volume when fully cooked. And if you're using black beans, navy beans, split peas, or garbanzos, they will nearly quadruple in size.

Soaking Beans

For the best results, soak your beans overnight.

Full Soak

  • Rinse beans in cold water, picking out any shrunken ones as well as pebbles or grass (beans are very much a product of the earth and even the highest-quality brands may have dust and little rocks in them).
  • Place in a pot with at least three cups of water for every cup of beans--refrigerate overnight.
  • Discard any beans that float to the top--these are most likely hollow or damaged in some way.

In a time pinch? Do a quick-soak about an hour beforehand.

Soaking Dry Beans

Photo by Meredith

Quick Soak

  • Rinse and pick through beans, then place them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by two inches.
  • Bring to a boil, cap the pot with a snug-fitting lid, remove from the heat and let sit for one hour.
  • You can either keep the cooking water and proceed with your recipe, or you can drain the beans and start again with fresh water.

Note: The exception to the soaking rule is lentils. These are so small that they don't need to be soaked at all. Just rinse and cover with plenty of water, then simmer for about half and hour.

Cooking Beans

When you're ready to cook the soaked beans, drain them, and cover them with fresh water.

  • Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
  • Check periodically and keep enough water in the pot so beans are always under at least ¼ inch of liquid.
  • Once soaked, beans will take between one and two hours to cook, depending on their size.

Chef John's Cassoulet

Chef John's Cassoulet | Photo by catherine.drew

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About Carl Hanson

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