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Cooking boring dried beans

I'm trying to do two things at once: cut down on my meat, and cut down on my sodium. The two together means dried beans.

But I have a problem. We're really big on convenience in our household, which means I'll be cooking up huge batches and IQFing them for future use, so I need neutral flavors for versatility. Another is that I'm trying to keep costs down, and if at any point preparing my dried beans becomes more expensive than canned beans I'm out, so no ham hocks and the like.

And finally, and this is the biggest one and a blasphemy, I'm sure, on this board. We like canned beans. I like my beans to be so squishy they fall apart. I like the flavor of canned beans, and I'm not sure what those flavors are. I usually eat Harris Teeter's canned black or dark red beans.

Maybe I'll branch out into other beans with time. Maybe I'll become a bean connoisseur. But for now, can you help me make bland, too-soft, every day beans?

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  1. White beans of any kind. What will add depth to your dish is carmelized onion, carrot and celery; a mirepoix cooked low and slow. With some salt and pepper, a delicious plate of beans. You could also head in France's direction: white beans again, seasoned with onion and rosemary. The above additions wouldn't hurt this either. And always, always when you have a birdy carcass on hand, or some bones to roast, do it! And make a stock out of it and use it to cook your beans down in. One caveat though; it's a long-held belief with me that beans tend to "sieze" if cooked with salt added, so make sure the stock you use is very low in sodium.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mamachef

      Can you explain a bit what you mean by "seize?" Do you mean that they won't soften?

      1. re: Glencora

        Exactly, Glencora. In my experience a high-sodium cooking medium retards the cooking process right at the "al dente" point, which IMO beans should be cooked beyond. Many, I'm sure, would digress, and they are free to do so, but I know what I know. :-)

        1. re: mamachef

          I agree - I even tried chicken stock once and felt like it took forever for the beans to become soft.

          1. re: mamachef

            I'm with y ou on the salting of dried beans, mamachef. I also "know what I know (from experience!)

        2. re: mamachef

          I've been cooking beans for well over 50 years (pinto beans) and was taught by my mom that it is impossible to salt beans once they have been cooked, the exception being if you boil some water with salt in it, you can add for a slight improved flavor of the beans. My findings are that if you buy beans in a package, they are probably old beans and will not get as tender as you would like regardless. I always buy the beans loose in a bin and have always had excellent results. They are the younger beans with a higher turnover. Not all types of beans are offered loose. We eat a lot of pinto beans, juicy from the pot, refried, in soups and our favorite way, frijoles con chile chicharrone.

          That said, for easy, tasty and good in cold weather, I either cook a pot of beans or if not able to, open a couple of cans of pinto beans, heat them then cut up fresh tomato, onions, a little cilantro and jalapeno to taste and they are delish. You asked for simple.

        3. I make at least one batch of beans every week. I soak the beans in water overnight. In the morning, put in a saucepan, cover with water and heat to boiling. Turn down to a high simmer, add more water when needed and cook until soft. I save some of the liquid, too. Rinse the beans and they are ready to eat! I like to saute onion, garlic and sometimes jalapeno minced w/a little olive oil and cooking liquid, add some seasoning (salt, pepper, cumin, etc.) then mash with a potato masher so they are still chunky. Top with a little cilantro and sour cream - delicious alone, over rice, etc. Same method for pinto, I use rosemary and chicken stock for northern beans.

          BTW, for low-sodium chili, I soak a mixture of beans overnight, cook until soft, set aside. Saute 1-2 onions and 2-4 carrots (chopped together in food processor to desired consistency) until translucent and soft. Add a chopped jalapeno and 3 cloves of garlic, cooking until fragrant. I add a restaurant-sized can of crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce (about $3 at Sam's). Then I add chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt & pepper and the beans. Heat to low boil and them simmer for about 20 minutes. It freezes very well!

          2 Replies
          1. re: sherrycakes

            I love the big-batch beans, sherrycakes. What do you serve yours with?

            1. re: mamachef

              I usually make up a big batch of brown rice (made with chicken stock) and eat that w/the beans and chicken breast for lunch during the week. We thin the beans with some veggie stock (my son's a vegetarian) and eat it like a soup, add a little cilantro, bean burritos, beans and cornbread (ala Pioneer Woman), etc.

          2. When I pressure-cook soaked dried beans, I get more of a canned texture than when I simmer them in a regular pot. Maybe that's because they usually get a little overcooked in my ancient pressure cooker. Or maybe it's because I don't cook them in the pressure cooker directly. I put the soaked beans in a bowl, then cover them with water to the depth of an inch. I put the bowl on a rack over a half inch of water in the pressure cooker. I do rice the same way - so I'm using the same bowl I'll be serving from and in which I'll be refrigerating any that's left over. It eliminates the need to wash the pressure cooker.

            1. lidia bastianich does the MOST AMAZING thing with dried white beans and it is made with only pantry items. it is *always* a hit in my house. it's from her family table book and you can add a variety of things to the finished product. i put in chard or julianned zucchini.

              it's really delicious.

              Garlicky White Beans and Broth

              For cooking the beans:
              1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) dry cannellini or other small dried white beans, soaked overnight.
              4 quarts cold water, plus more if needed
              3 bay leaves
              1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
              1 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed

              For the Garlicky Soffritoo
              3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
              6 big garlic cloves, sliced
              1/4 to 1/2 teasppon dried peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes)

              Cooking the Beans:
              Drain and rinse the beans and pum them in a pot with the water, bay leaves, and olive oil. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. When the water is at a full bol, set the cover ajar, adjust the heat to maintain a steady gentle boiling, and coof for an hour more, until the beans are tender.
              Stir in the salt, uncover, and continue cooking at a bubbling boil for another hour or more, until the beans and broth have reduced to 3 quarts. Lower the heat as the liquid evaporates, and the soup base thickens, stirring now and then to prevent scorching.

              Flavoring the Base with the Soffritto:
              When the soup base if sufficiently reduced, make the soffritto. Heat the olive oil and the sliced garlic in the skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes or so, shaking the pan now and then, until the slices are sizzling. Drop in the peperoncino, stir with the garlic and cook another minute, or until the garlic is just starting to color.
              From the soup pot, ladle out a cup of the simmering bean broth and pour it into the skillet. Let it sizzle and start to boil, shake and stir up the soffritto, and cook it for a couple of minutes in teh broth. Then pour it all back into the bean pot, scraping in every bit of the soffritto, or just rinse the skillet out with more broth. Simmer the soup base for another 5 mintues with the soffritto, then remover from the heat.

              The base is ready for a finished soup now; or let the whole pot cool, pick out and discard teh bay leaves, and keep the soup refrigerated for 3-4 days or freeze, n filled and tightly sealed containers for 4-to 6 months.

              1. Crock pots are second-rate for most recipes, I find, but they work wonders with beans. You don't even need to soak them....just start them on "low" early in the day (adding your aromatics--sauteed garlic, onions, carrots, maybe a hot pepper?) with plenty of water. Voila! Perfectly cooked, tender, and not broken or mushy. (don't add salt till the last few hours).

                A source for wonderful bean recipes (and wonderful beans!!!) is here: www.ranchogordo.com Check out Steve Sando's blog, especially, for great recipes.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Beckyleach

                  Oh, you can start them at bed time, too, if you want some for lunch, instead. Waking to the scent of beans isn't so great (bleah....I'm a Morning Queasy Stomach person) but you get used to it.

                2. Most of these posts are not addressing the OP's request for help recreating the mild flavor and softer texture of canned beans. S/he is not looking for YOUR favorite flavor profile.

                  To the OP: if you read the label on your canned beans, you will most likely find that there is a lot of salt in them (no Harris Teeter here). Even though they do not taste noticeably salty to you, you'll need to salt your beans more than you think. IMO, the best way is what Cook's Illustrated recommends, which is to salt the soaking water, but not the cooking water. However, the idea that beans won't soften if cooked in salted water has been pretty well debunked, so I cook them in the same water they soak in.

                  Every thread on beans contains recommendations for Rancho Gordo. I ordered a variety of beans from them several years ago. To my taste buds, they were no better than what I buy in the supermarket. YMMV. The RG prices, before shipping charges, are 3-4 times that of supermarket beans. Since OP mentions cost as a factor, that probably rules out RG.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: greygarious

                    I appreciate your comments.

                    I have the Rancho Gordo Bean book which I bought on eBay about a year ago for a very reduced price. I suspected that there would be an imperceptible difference in quality to grocery beans. I value your experience.

                    They do have a variety which is hard, but not impossible, to find elsewhere, the Gigante Bean which is occasionally not available.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      Did you try the Good Mother Stallards? The giant Christmas limas? The white teparies? The Eye of the Goat beans? Some of the amazingly interesting, indigenous and rare varieties he's helping to bring back from the brink of extinction? Some of Rancho Gordo's beans are very, very unusual--and with that distinction often comes amazingly different and delicious flavors.

                      I agree, however: if you're going to buy plain old pintos, or garbanzos, or cannellini's, might as well stick to something local and cheaper (unless they're old; RG's are always very, very fresh).

                      But, if like us, you want to experience the FULL RANGE of flavor that beans can and do possess, he's the best source around. I don't consider the $4 per bag price exorbitant, given their unique characteristics and extraordinary flavor (the Mother Stallards, for instance, need no seasoning whatsoever but salt, and are so incredibly flavorful the family fights over the last serving) and the fact that there's a flat rate shipping fee of just $8 ( and I stock up!) to anywhere in the country.

                      1. re: Beckyleach

                        Oh, to list my "experience": I've ordered probably 10-15 pounds of Rancho Gordo beans every year for three years, so far. Never had a boring bean. (I would not bother to order the pintos again, however...they're not much different from freshly harvested pintos, anywhere. ) They cook in about 2/3rds the amount of time as beans from my local grocery stores, too.

                    2. Add some crushed red pepper or commercial chili powder to the beans. I usually do not advocate the use of chili powder, but some people like easy cooking as opposed to creative cooking.

                      A seasoning known as Italian Seasoning, a mixture of about 6 herbs, may help along with a can or 2 of diced tomatoes.

                      1. I would use the basic recipe from Rick Bayless. I too like soft beans, so I cook them longer than the recipe suggests. these beans are basic, but you can eat as is or then doctor them up after you defrost them. I freeze these in ziplocs with some liquid. If by IQF you mean freezing dry beans individually, I wonder if that wouldn't make them dry, but I have not tried it.

                        1 lb dried beans. I have followed the same method with pintos, kidney, small red, and black.

                        rinse and pick through. I never soak.

                        Finely chop one yellow onion and cook over medium high heat in 2-3 T of oil for about 10 minutes, until golden and a little brown. add beans and enough water to cover by an inch. Simmer for 1-2 hours depending on age of beans, size, etc. I partially cover sometimes. the beans should be nearly to your preferred texture. add salt and cook an additional 30 minutes. make sure the beans remain covered by water; add more if necessary. once the beans are cooked though, you can boil off some of the water if necessary.

                        1. I do this too - cook large quantities of "boring" beans for other uses during the week when time is short.

                          I swear by a pressure cooker. I don't do anything fancy, just rinse the beans, put them in the cooker, add some oil (to prevent foaming, supposedly), salt and water. Cook at pressure for 25 to 30 minutes, let cool, and there you go. They're plenty soft but not broken up because they're not agitating in the pot.

                          I have a Mirro-matic pressure cooker that must be at least 35 years old, obtained at a thrift shop for $5. Talk about ROI.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: tcamp

                            If OP likes the taste/texture of canned beans, he/she should get his/her hands on a pressure cooker. Canned foods are pressure cooked--beans are cooked in the can, under pressure, so a pressure cooker is the best way to recreate the flavor/texture of canned beans.

                            I, too, like the texture of canned beans and have been much happier cooking beans from scratch since i've gotten my pressure cooker.

                            Of course, the price of a pressure cooker is going to detract from the money-saving idea of making a lot of beans. But a pressure cooker is a worthwhile investment—it has made so many things easier and faster in my kitchen.

                          2. I'm sure the pressure cooker is awesome. If you don't have one, I recommend a crock pot if you've got one of those. Beans take a really, really long time to get soft. I also recommend doing the hot-soak (boil five minutes, put the pot in the fridge overnight) because it makes a noticeable difference in, um, distress.

                            1. This article in the New York Times has me wanting to try the attached recipe for white bean and sausage stew. Dry beans without soaking, yay!


                              9 Replies
                              1. re: TorontoJo

                                Thanks for adding the link ...looks good! ;-)

                                1. re: TorontoJo

                                  Those un-soaked beans may make you sick. They certainly would me. If soaking is annoying, why not soak a bunch and freeze them?

                                  1. re: jvanderh

                                    Why? Soaking is not necessary but does effect the length of cooking time. No evidence of that soaking and discarding the water has an effect on gas and only red kidney beans any significant toxins but even that is pretty low as to not effect most people.

                                      1. re: jvanderh

                                        your best bet to avoid flaunts is to eat more beans.

                                        1. re: jvanderh

                                          I think if your system is this sensitive, you havee withdrawn from the real world. Years ago, when I was working in Nicaragua a fellow worker from San Francisco got sick. Our American doctor tested and treated him and ultimately sent him home. The fellow was on a Macrobiotic diet and the doctor said his system was "too clean" to withstand bugs found in a normal environment. As a nurse I believe our bodies can resist a lot of things if we allow it to keep its inherent immunity. The more we wipe our daily germs and baby ourselves, the more we set ourselves up for problems.

                                    1. re: TorontoJo

                                      It is interesting that the NY Times recipe linked by Toronto Jo calls for Great Northern Beans. But in a recent Cooks' Illustrated, these type of white beans ranked last--cannellini and navy beans rated much higher for flavor and texture.

                                      What are YOUR favorite types of dried white beans?

                                      1. re: erica

                                        White teparies. Loaded with flavor and some of the highest protein content around..they're almost sweet, too:
                                        Can a bean be romantic? We think so! Teparies are indigenous to North America and were developed by Native Americans to be drought-tolerant. Higher in protein and fiber than other beans (which are already super foods), what more can you ask for in food? Flavor and texture? You got it! The small beans plump up a bit but keep a meaty, dense texture. Can you tell we're smitten?

                                        The beans are savory but the white version tends to be slightly sweet."


                                    2. Get a pressure cooker. Save time, energy, and nutrients. I can put split pea soup on the table (without soaking the peas) in 20 minutes, with prep. Rissotto, 7.5 mins. The models on today's market are safe. UL requires that all pressure be released before you can open it. Safe, eficent, nutrient saver as well as a major energy saver. I recommend books on PC cooking by Lorna Sass. They are very accurate on timing. There is next to nothing (except baked items) become that you cannot do in a PC. My favorite bread pudding, I use patattone, in the pc. It becomes light and custardy and a real treat. Not stodgy and heavy. I like Fagor's but there are plenty of other PC's to choose from

                                      1. I usually forget to presoak, but have found the following method to be just as good if not better:

                                        cover the beans with water and boil for 10 minutes.
                                        Turn off the heat and drain off the cooking water - this is supposed to "de-gas" the beans, and as far as I can tell it works.
                                        Cover with water again, bring to the boil, and turn the heat off and let them soak for an hour.
                                        After soaking, turn the heat back on and simmer for about an hour, checking frequently and adding water if necessary. I usually start with 2 c of water to 1 c of dried beans, but 3 c of water is probably "safer" if you think you might forget to check it frequently enough.

                                        Water to bean ration and cooking times vary from one type of bean to another, and with the age of the beans. Don't worry about the myth about salt keeping your beans from getting soft, it isn't true. I don't salt my beans (HORRORS) at all, I salt whatever I'm making with them. Canned beans are very salty, as another poster noted, so if you want them to taste like canned, you'll probably have to use a fair amount of salt.

                                        1. TBridges, canned beans are not especially soft and squishy. The flavor you like in the canned beans is salt. If you want to cook beans very fast get a pressure cooker. I you soak the beans first many beans will cook in around 8 min plus the cool down so you can get them on the table in less than 20 min.

                                          1. One word - Garbanzos [aka chick peas, cici, chana].

                                            Make anything from hummus to garbanzos with spinach & baccalao to channa masala to falafel.

                                            Very cheap - buy bags of the stuff for under $1/lb at indo-pak groceries.


                                            Also, if you are concerned about sodium levels, do NOT use canned beans, they have high levels of sodium - read the label.

                                            Oh, once you soak the baccalao properly, the sodium levels drop way down to the point where you may have to add salt to the recipe.


                                            Adding salt to beans while cooking is a wives tale. Just make sure the beans are fresh, properly soaked overnight or longer, boiled for 5min & sat for 1 hour [quick method]. What adding salt to the cooking does is have the beans absorb the salt, increasing the quantity of salt needed.


                                            You can also check out the myriad of lentils used in Indian cooking - all different flavours & textures. Great for batching up a mess & freezing.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: algct

                                              Lots of good info in these posts. We lean heavily vegetarian and cooked beans for many years.

                                              There are many great books on cooking beans. Almost any Lorna Sass book is great. She's written many, so I'd recommend starting with her later books (her techniques and writing have evolved over the years. Many of her cookbooks skew heavily to the pressure cooker side of things.

                                              Beans can take on many flavor, so they work in anything. They freeze very well, so you can make extra, put them in the freezer and your all set the next time. I freeze them in 1-3/4 portions, so they match the 15 oz. can that many recipes call for.

                                              Pressure cookers and Slow-cookers do an equally excellent job of cooking the beans.

                                              A few notes:

                                              One tip from Lorna Sass - Beans vary in age and dryness, so when you soak them, cut one in half and see that the soaking has soaked completely through.

                                              If you are using an old jiggle-weighted top cooker, add a few teaspoons of oil to minimize foaming.

                                              There are different opinions as to when they are done. I like to cook them until some of the skins are loose.

                                            2. 1. If you like canned beans there is no sin in eating canned beans. They're a perfectly good and needlessly maligned product. Inferior to and costlier than basic homemade beans, but still cheap as, um, beans and infinitely better than no beans at all. Stock up!

                                              2. That said, if you're significantly cutting down on meat and want to make dried beans, it's probably not worth comparing the cost of dried beans to the cost of canned beans. Your annual grocery bill will be so much lower that a small chunk of ham hock here or dash of (unsalted homemade) stock there will be a minuscule dent in your overall savings.

                                              3. Diluting homemade stock by 50% or more economically adds great depth of flavor, and a little bit of ham hock goes a long way---especially for everyday beans. Hack off a chunk and throw it back in the freezer and it can last for two, three, four batches of beans. If you garden, most any snipped herb will be welcome. And if you buy those pricey little plastic containers of fresh herbs, almost anything you have in the fridge and need to use up will be welcome as well (but especially bay, rosemary, and thyme). A couple smashed garlic cloves do wonders, and a mirepoix per mamachef never hurt a thing. If you find the right balance of these ingredients/techniques you can make wonderfully neutral beans that you can't stop eating. After all, you're not trying to make nutraloaf, right?

                                              4. As to your final question, there's no special trick: just cook the snot out of them and they'll be plenty soft. Keep them partially covered in plenty of liquid at only a gently simmer if you mind them falling apart. I'm afraid you're not going to get that canned taste without plenty of sodium, which you're trying to reduce. Pick up a can of unsalted/low-salt beans. You'll probably find it pretty undesirable, but do report back if there is still some unidentifiable flavor you enjoy.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                                                I find canned beans perfectly tasty (but second rate to freshly cooked) BUT I always rinse them before eating/cooking. I don't like the "slime" that they're often packed in...and that will reduce your sodium content, too.

                                                1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                                                  I grew up on home-grown navy beans. When I lived in Mexico I learned to cook all kinds of beans. The one lesson I learned that has stayed with me is this --- NEVER add cold water to dried beans that are cooking. In Mexico they generally cook dried beans in a clay pot and every housewife has a dish that fits in the opening (acts as a cover) that they fill with water. It is heated as the beans cook. Whenever they check the beans and need to add water it comes from that dish and the water is hot. I was told by a very middle class Mexican housewife NEVER to add cold water to cooking beans --- that it toughens them. I've used this trick ever since and it always works.

                                                  Another good Mexican trick is to add some lemon/lime juice to any chicken soup. It brightens the flavor and truly makes it magical.

                                                  1. re: fedora

                                                    I dunno that I buy that cold water toughens the beans, but I agree that adding cold water is bad: adding just a bit can drop your liquor below the gentle simmer for like half-an-hour. When I start my beans I nuke a large (4-cup) measuring cup of water or water-and-stock until it boils. Whenever I need a little liquid I nuke again for a minute or two before adding the steaming hot liquid to the pot.

                                                2. Caned beans have a lot of salt. One way to get around the salt is to drain the caned beans and then rinse them. Put them in cooking pan add water and you have caned beans with little or no salt. Salt is not that hard to eliminate or reduce in your diet if you try.

                                                  1. I also thought that rinsing beans would lessen the sodium but after doing some reading, found that the beans have absorbed the salt so rinsing takes very little sodium away. There are "no salt added" canned beans. We are a low sodium family so I heavily spice my beans and lentils. I would suggest you look into lentils too because they cook so much faster than beans and they don't have to be pre-soaked.