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Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) promotes local food knowledge, production and market opportunities for farmers and community members throughout our region.

A Beginner's Guide to Dried Beans

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A Beginner's Guide to Dried Beans

Steve Peters

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There are many unique items growing here in Vermont. There is the widest array of heirloom tomatoes, the freshest artichokes, and my favorite discovery of the summer - husk cherries. But when it comes to nutritional value, the best plant-based food out there is not as exotic. In fact, for ages these have been enjoyed among cultures throughout the world. And when you combine them with grains, you make a complete protein - that is, you fulfill all nine of the essential amino acids necessary in the human diet. I'm talking about beans. Beans are an ideal taco filling, which is why I bring them up. The tortilla (the grain) when filled with beans, gives you that complete protein all in one delicious, hand-held meal. Although not widely for sale among farmers right now (which in some ways actually does make them unique for us) there are a few options for dried beans in the Rutland region. Yoder Farm in Danby is one grower in particular that often carries them at the Rutland farmers' market - more so going into the fall, winter and spring months. The Rutland Co-op also has a nice selection - some local, some not. Take a look at our Locally Grown Guide for more sources in the area. Of course, the dried beans that come in a bag in the grocery store will do as well. It is important to know that older beans take longer to cook. And you really have no way of knowing how old those beans in the grocery store truly are. However, when you can chat with the farmer who grew them, you can get a clear notion of the freshness of your food.

Before you can use dried beans you must bring them to a state which is suitable for cooking. That's right, using dried beans more often than not requires a two-step process. First, the soaking and then the cooking. But the good news is that this is 98% unattended! There are a few approaches you can take, but regardless of which you choose, the first real step is to give the beans a rinse to remove any dust or dirt. Then, pick out any damaged beans. Old beans will float to the top when placed in water and can be removed.

Note: As they absorb water, dried beans expand! One cup dried beans will result in about 2 1/2 cups after cooking.

Method #1: The Quick Soak 

With the quick soak approach you place your beans in a pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for two minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for one hour. Drain. They are now ready for cooking. See below.

Method #2: The Long Soak

Like the name implies, this is the longer of the two methods. However, all you have to do is cover the beans with water and let sit for six to eight hours - overnight or while at work for the day - are ideal, convenient periods of time. Afterwards, drain and cook. See below.

Cooking After Soaking

In a pot, cover the beans with plenty of water - much more than seems necessary. Dried beans absorb water and expand up to one to two times their original size. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender. The amount of time varies greatly depending upon the age, as noted above, and size of the bean. Smaller and fresher will result in less time. Lentils could be ready in twenty minutes, for instance, without even soaking, whereas chickpeas, on the other hand, can take up to three hours. But, in general, aim for one to two hours, or longer. To impart some really great flavor into your beans, try adding in a variety of fresh herbs, onions, and garlic. Avoid acids (like lemon or tomato) and salt until after cooking. These tend to break down the beans too quickly. Be sure that the water always remains in the pot as the beans cook.

When done, remove any aromatics, add salt and use however you prefer. The beans can be stored in their cooking liquid for several days in the fridge or several weeks in the freezer. Why not soak and cook a month's worth of beans all in one shot?

Three Alternatives (if the above two options for some reason sound terrible to you)

Cooking Without Soaking

Soaking too much of a bother for you? Fine. Just cook the beans anyway. But be aware cooking times will double compared to if you had soaked. And unlike soaking time, this time requires some minor degree of your attention.

Cooking in a Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker

Since I've never tried either of these methods, I'm going to redirect you. Just wanted to let you know these are options as well, both of which seem to still require soaking.

For cooking beans in a pressure cooker: go here. Seems like a really quick method.

For cooking beans in a slow cooker: go here. With just about all things cooked in slow cookers - this will probably make your house smell great.