Take a break from hauling, storing and recycling cans and learn how to cook flavorful black beans from scratch that taste better than anything you can buy. If you can boil water, you can cook beans. And I’ve got the definitive guide to get your started or perhaps contribute to your bean cooking knowledge if you’ve been simmering pots of beans for years.
It’s been 11 years since I owned a car. Although I don’t lament it, I’m the first to admit it’s changed my behavior. Living in the Randstad in The Netherlands with abundant public transportation and amenities close at hand makes the disadvantages of car ownership like parking, insurance and seagull presents on your windshield outweigh the advantages. I walk more, this is true, but as it turns out, I shop for groceries a lot more too.
When I lived in a rural part of the US, I thought nothing of a 90-mile trek to the nearest ‘city’ to stock up on groceries. I'd rock up to the supermarket, in search of cans of black beans that were organic, salt-free and in BPA free cans. And if they were super expensive, well, I'd just roll off to another store. And always, always, I’d buy several dozen cans.
I don’t roll like that anymore.
These days, if I’m looking for cans of beans, I can find them right down the street. I just need to grab my shopping bags and load up. And then I carry them down the street and up the narrow flight of stairs to our flat. Easier than parking and walking through the lot. Except…
My bulk-buying days are over. I am limited by my physical capabilities to carry and I now have limited living space. Although I'm happy to store stuff under beds, they are already jam-packed.
And those empty cans? They get rinsed and go into the recycle bag where they take up more precious kitchen space under the counter until they finally get a new home at the recycle collection spot that is around the corner.
Sure, I could solve this by just going out again the next day, but let’s be serious.
You might be thinking that all this lamenting about lugging cans home is a bit dramatic, but one of those other life changes, the one about plant-based eating has resulted in skyrocketing bean consumption and thus a lot of accumulating cans. And I swear they multiply overnight.
Necessity and cooking black beans from scratch
Instead of lugging cans home the other day, I bounded up the steps toting a bag of dried black beans. I used to cook beans from scratch a lot, but for whatever reason, I decided it was more convenient to grab the cans. Seriously?
When it comes to cooking your own beans, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Whether you are an experienced cook or not, chances are, you’ve made a pot of beans. If not, then you really get to try this from scratch without some of the learning pain points I’ve acquired along the way.
Cooking black beans from scratch: a primer
Buy them - Unlike cans, bagged beans don't come with a 'sell-by' date. So how do you sort the good from the bad? First, start by shopping where there is likely to be a high turnover. Next, inspect the beans. Younger beans have a shiner and brighter color. Look for dry beans that are firm and clean. Finally, check out the bag (if they are in a bag). Avoid bags with tears or that appears weathered and weak.
Why is age important?
Older beans will take longer to cook. Also, older beans, even if they don't appear discolored when you buy them, can cook up and lose some of their color and a bit of flavor. This isn't the worst thing that can happen to you, and you are not compromising nutritional value and when it comes to beans, fiber, is fiber, is fiber.
Store them – Dry beans should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Once you open the bag, store your unused dry beans in a tightly sealed container or bag.
To soak or not soak – it’s not really a question
Let start here: Dry beans need to be rehydrated. It’s one reason we soak them. The other reason, which in my stomach’s opinion is far more important is digestibility. When you soak beans and they start to rehydrate, they release undigestible sugars. This is why you soak, this is why you never cook them in the soaking water.
The final reason to soak is cooking time reduction and bean integrity. Soaking will reduce the cooking time which means less time that beans are beating each other in the pot resulting in a war-torn appearance. If you soak, your beans will retain their shape and stay firm without the outer layer being mushy.
How to soak beans
Before you soak beans and no matter the method you use, the first step is to rinse the amount of beans you intend to use and sort through them. You want to discard any weird stones or wrinkled beans. Don't rinse beans and put them back in the bag or store them for long periods. They can start to ferment.
The traditional method for soaking beans is the easiest. After you rinse and sort, add the beans to a pot with at least twice the amount of water as beans. Cover the pot and leave it for at least 8 hours or overnight. Room temperature is fine unless your kitchen is super warm. Then you want to either find a cooler place for soaking or put them in the fridge.
To quick-soak beans, you want to cover the beans in cold water twice the amount of beans. Put them on the stove and bring them to boil. Boil them for 2-3 minutes. Remove them from the heat, cover them and let them sit for 2-3 hours.
Admittedly, I use the overnight soak most often, but I’ll tout an interesting advantage for the quick soak. You can get creative with the soaking liquid here and infuse your beans with different flavors. Try chili, ginger, garlic, whatever drives your car. I find the most impact for infusion with the quick soak method.
Hurry up and cook method – if you have completely forgotten to soak and you can’t spare 2-3 hours for the quick soak method, you can cover the beans with water, bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, drain and then start the cooking process.
Always drain the soaking liquid.
No matter which of these three methods you use, always, always, always drain the soaking liquid. You want to get rid of the indigestible sugars from soaking, so don’t cook with it.
Soaking opponents will be the first to speak up and inform you that along with the indigestible sugars, you also drain off extra nutrients with the soaking liquid. They are correct. If you are counting every scintilla of micronutrient in beans, then perhaps you will decide not to soak your beans. I will leave this decision up to you. I soak beans because I can’t digest them. That likely means that any nutrients I might lose from soaking is made up exponentially because I will eat them, and they will be digested.
Just as older beans can have compromised color, soaked beans can too. That said, you will also lose color due to a longer cooking process because you didn’t soak. I’ll leave this circular argument and leave this decision in your bowl. I’m probably not so visually picky about food to be concerned about a bit of color loss, but that’s just me.
The general rule for cooking beans is the 2:1 ratio of liquid to beans. When you start cooking your beans, you want to bring them to a boil just to get the heat up and then immediately bring them to a rolling simmer. If you keep them boiling the war in the pot will begin. You’ll want to cover the pot to keep the liquid from evaporating too quickly, but it’s a good idea to keep the lid cocked enough that you can keep an eye on the heat and adjust accordingly.
As your beans cook, it’s perfectly natural that a bit of foam will accumulate on the top. Just skim that off from time to time.
30 minutes to 2 hours. How’s that for a window? There are so many factors when it comes to cooking beans. Age, soaking, type and size of beans, unforeseen cosmic forces. Most importantly, you want beans to be fully cooked. Al dente beans are a recipe for tummy aches. And just like you can't watch the pot for accelerated cooking time, if you raise the temperature and mercilessly boil them, you will end up with a pot of disintegrated beans with hard centers.
Keep in mind that if you add acids such as tomatoes or vinegar, you want to do that at the end of the cooking process. Acids extend cooking time, so keep that until the end.
A scientific method to test doneness
Hold on. It’s tasting. Yep, put a few in your mouth and if you can easily press them between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, they’re done. Alternatively, you can mash them with the back of a spoon, but where’s the fun in that?
The dry to cooked conversion
The type of bean has a huge impact on the yield, there are a few quick general guidelines to keep in mind.
2 cups dried beans = 1 pound of dried beans
1 cups of dried beans = 3 cups of cooked beans
½ cup of dried beans = 15 ounce can (cooked)
So why bother?
Beyond my dilemma of carrying, storing and accumulating bags of recycles, when you cook beans from scratch, you are in complete control of salt and additives. At least in my area, a bag of beans is about ¼ the price of the equivalent of cans. And if you are concerned about the extra energy costs of making from scratch, you can mitigate this by making double batches (or more). Cooked beans can be stored in the fridge for 4-5 days and in the freezer for 4-6 months. Freeze them in sealed bags, thaw them in the fridge or run them under warm water and cook them up.
Unless you buy canned beans in 'sauce' and I don't advise that, when you cook beans from scratch, you can spice them up (like that quick-soak method). When I first made beans, I used to just toss them in with water and pinch of salt.
You'll be amazed at the transformation of your black beans when you simmer them for an hour or so with dried chilies, bay leaves, garlic, cumin, and chili powder. You end up with a foundational layer of flavor cooked into your beans. This means your black beans are already taco ready.
When I bounded up the steps the other week with that bag of black beans and flavored them up, I was inspired to use them in saucy chipotle black beans. And honestly, they tasted better. I felt better for doing it myself and I wasn’t staring at more cans in the recycle bin. In truth, there was nothing time consuming about soaking those black beans and then simmering them on the stove. Extras went in the freezer. Done and done.
Maybe planning is less convenient and I’m not preaching that I’ve made a commitment to living a ‘can-free’ existence. But it’s good to know that I'm able to interrupt the can cycle from time to time and rather than compromise flavor, enhance it. Something to ponder as I replace a few days of bag carrying for some arm curls and Netflix. Peace.Print
Learn how to cook flavorful, healthy black beans from scratch that taste better than store-bought and stop buying, carrying, storing and recycling cans.
- 3 cups dry black beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
- 8 cups of water
- 3 - 4 whole dried red chilis
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. chili powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- To soak the beans, rinse them and pick out any stones or discolored beans. Add the beans to a pot and fill the pot with water so there is at least twice as much water (more is better as you’ll drain it before cooking). Soak the beans overnight.
- To cook the beans, first, drain the soaking water and rinse the beans. If you are using the same pot, rinse it out.
- Place the beans, dried chilis, bay leaves, garlic, cumin and chili powder plus 8 cups of water in the pot.
- Bring the pot to a boil, then turn it down to simmer and partially cover it.
- Keep the beans at a simmer, stirring them every now and then. Simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours until the beans are tender.
- Season with salt and pepper during the last 15 – 20 minutes of cooking (this is also a good time to adjust the seasonings).
- Cooking time will vary and is dependent on several factors including the age of your beans, your pot, and the water temperature. Be sure to cook your beans thoroughly. Undercooked beans can cause digestive problems.
- Beans will keep in the fridge for 4-5 days or they can be frozen. To thaw beans, run them under hot water before cooking them or allow them to thaw in the fridge.
- Category: Tips & Techniques
- Cuisine: General
Keywords: cook black beans from scratch