Beans are some of the most amazing foods we can eat. They are healthy, filling, packed with protein and a hearty addition to many dishes. Beans are economical and a great value for your money especially if you buy dried beans. They are convenient, easy to cook and easy to store. Beans are highly versatile and can be used for spreads, stews, soups, entrees, sides and desserts. Talk about variety – there are many types of beans, each with its own taste and texture – adzuki, black, black-eyed peas, cannellini, fava, garbanzo, kidney, navy, pinto, and soy to name just a few.

While canned beans are convenient (I always keep a few cans of my favorite beans on hand), cooking dried beans is optimal. Many canned beans contain sodium and preservatives and fresh beans are not only healthier, they taste amazingly better. If you find the idea of cooking beans from scratch intimidating because of the soaking and the time it takes, read on. It’s not as hard as you might think. Learn all the tips and tricks in this ultimate guide to cooking perfect beans.

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1. Rinse and Repeat

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Before you cook the beans, you need to know how much you want to make. As a rule, one pound of dried beans (about 2 cups) will yield 5-6 cups of cooked beans. One cup of dried beans yields about 2 ½ -3 cups of cooked beans. Make more than you need for one recipe and freeze the extra beans in 1- or 2-cup amounts.

You want to give the dried beans a good rinse with cool water to get rid of dust and dirt. Check for any pebbles or rocks that might be hidden in with the beans. You don’t want to bite down on rocks.

2. To Soak or Not to Soak

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You don’t have to soak the beans but you probably want to. Soaking the beans reduces the cooking times especially with older dried beans. It also helps the beans to cook more evenly. Lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked. There are two methods of soaking: the overnight method and the quick soak method. If you have the time, do the overnight soak but if you don’t, the quick method will help.

Overnight Soak Method: after you have rinsed the beans and picked through them, put them in a large bowl. Fill the bowl with enough cold water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Let the beans soak for 8 hours or overnight, if possible. In warm weather, let the beans soak in the fridge. Drain before cooking.

Quick Soak Method: after you have rinsed the beans and picked through them, put them in a large pot. Fill the pot with enough cold water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring the liquid to a boil and then remove from the heat. Let the beans stand, covered for 1-2 hours. Drain before cooking.

3. Add Flavor

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I’m always a proponent of adding aromatics to any recipe and cooking beans is included. You can flavor the beans while they cook in the water or start before you even add the beans. In the pot you are planning to cook the beans in, saute some chopped onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in a bit of olive oil. Then add the beans and water to cook. Or add flavoring into the water with the beans. Use your favorite herbs and spices like thyme, oregano and bay leaf. Don’t add salt or any acidic foods, however, until the beans are mostly cooked. They can toughen the beans and impede the cooking process. Try adding a piece of kombu to help you digest the beans more easily.

4. Cooking: Stovetop

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You don’t need any fancy appliances to cook beans on the stovetop. Place the soaked and drained beans in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and add enough cool water to cover them by an inch or two (about 3 cups of water per cup of dried beans). Bring the water to a boil and skim off any scummy debris that comes to the surface. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender. The time can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the beans. Add more water if needed to keep the beans submerged. When the beans are tender, drain and enjoy.

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5. Stovetop Cooking Times

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The time it takes for the beans to get tender depend on the type of bean as well as how fresh the beans are. These are the approximate times for beans that have been pre-soaked for 8 hours:

Lentils: 20-30 minutes (no soaking needed)

Split Peas: 45 minutes to 1 hour (no soaking needed)

Aduki, Anasazi, Great Northern: 1 – 1 ½ hours

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Black, Lima, Navy, Pinto: 1 ½ – 2 hours

Cannellini, Garbanzo, Kidney: 2 – 2 ½ hours

Soybeans: 3 hours

6. Cooking: Slow-Cooker and Pressure Cooker

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Beans can also be prepared in slow-cookers and pressure cookers. To cook beans in a slow-cooker: put the soaked and drained beans in the slow-cooker and add 5 cups of boiling water. Cover and cook on HIGH until the beans are tender. Depending on the type of beans, it can take between 2 and 4 hours. You can come home and find your beans ready and waiting for you. Check out How to Make Slow Cooker Spicy Pinto Beans and Simple Slow-Cooked Black-Eyed Beans.

Pressure cookers can reduce the time it takes to cook beans significantly. Put the soaked and drained beans in the pressure cooker. Add any aromatics, if desired, along with 3 cups water and 1 Tbs. oil for every cup of beans. Don’t fill the pressure cooker more than half-full. Secure the lid and bring to high pressure over high heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting that keeps high pressure. Cook the beans for 2-15 minutes, depending on the type of beans. Allow the pressure to release naturally. If the beans are not tender, return the cooker to high pressure and cook another 2 minutes and release the pressure again. Repeat until the beans are tender. See How to Cook Dried Chickpeas on the Stove or in a Pressure Cooker to see how the two methods compare.

7. Recipes

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Now that you have all the tips you need to cook your own beans, what will you make with them? We have lots of ideas to share with you. Let’s start with the starters. Appetizers that will definitely make you hungry include this Great Northern Bean Dip, Oil-Free Kale and Edamame Hummus and this Black Bean and Corn Salsa. Beans make filling and high-protein soups. Try this Mexican Black Bean Soup, White Bean and Kale Soup and Pasta e Fagioli made with pinto beans. Toss beans into your salads like this Sprouted Green Lentil and Peanut Salad, Tangy Curried Chickpea Salad, and this Hearty Vegan Cobb Salad. Whether they are the star of a side dish or part of an ensemble, beans are amazing. Try this White Bean Wild Rice Hash, Barley Risotto with Fava Beans, Corn and Mushrooms, and Refried Black Beans.

Beans make incredible Gluten-Free Italian Sausages, Black and White Bean Burgers, Vegan Sloppy Joes and tacos like these Spicy Bean Chili and Rice Tacos With Guacamole and Cashew Sour Cream and these Black Bean and Orange Breakfast Tacos. Of course, you can’t make chili without beans. Make this Healthy Vegan Chili and this Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili. Warm up with this Eggplant Garbanzo Stew with Polenta and enjoy this Simple Butter Bean Quiche. Everyone will love this Black Bean Loaf, Beans and Plantain Ravioli, and Black Bean, Corn and Red Rice Enchiladas.

Don’t forget dessert. You can use beans to make rich, decadent desserts like this Black Bean Chili Chocolate Brownies, Pumpkin Bean Bars and Indian-Style Soft Steamed Chickpea Flour Cake. For more recipes, see 7 Ways to Cook Beans to Make Them More Exciting and 10 Ways to Cook Beans with Global Flavors.

Once you start cooking your own beans, I promise you will love them so much, you may never buy canned again. Have fun and try a few kinds of beans you’ve never tried before. Before you know it, you’ll be cooking up all kinds of beans every single day.

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Lead Image Photo: How to Make Slow Cooker Spicy Pinto Beans