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Jul 15, 2012 11:22 AM

What am I doing wrong? Dried beans / garbanzo / chick peas / lentils

I have been trying to switch from canned to dry beans, but have yet to be successful re-hydrating any of them, specifically: lentil, azuki, garbanzo. No matter whether I put them in a slow cooker for hours, boil first or not, etc., they are always too hard - nowhere near the texture and consistency of the canned ones. What am I doing wrong? It is my methods? My expectation?


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  1. Conventional wisdom is that you must never add either salt nor acid (i.e. tomatoes) in the early phases of cooking, as this will prevent them from ever softening. Some sources say this is nonsense. Also, your water may be too hard.

    Of course, without knowing either your methods or your expectations, we can't know if either are right or wrong.

    6 Replies
    1. re: acgold7

      My expectation is that they have a similar consistency to canned beans.

      1. re: acgold7

        I use salt all the time. In the soaking water and the cooking water. Never a problem. Acid is the big No No.

        Lentils need no presoak. Cook up quickly with no issues. Again no acid but definetly salt

        1. re: acgold7

          I do subscribe to conventional wisdom when it comes to rehydrating and then cooking dried beans after we did a side by side comparison cook of dried navy beans (navy bean soup is a winter favorite here).

          Soaked the beans in cold water overnight (12 hours) then placed equal volumes in two identical 8 qt stockpots. Both were covered with fresh water (Brita-filtered) and heat turned up to medium high until they began to boil then lowered to a simmer. Once they hit a boil, one pot remained water only, the second got 1 tblspn of kosher salt and one cup of chopped tomatoes. Lids went on to partially cover the pots and after about 90 minutes we tasted from each pot and kept doing that for almost another 2 hours.

          The results were unmistakable. The unsalted version were softer and more cooked thru each time we tasted and the difference seemed to get bigger as time progressed. The unsalted versions were really "done" after about 2hours. At the end of 3 hours they were getting mushy and starting to fall apart. In contrast the salted and acidified beans were a sort of 'al dente' in an unpleasant way and never seemed to break down even after 3 1/2 hours of simmering.

          I've never tried to replicate the test and I admit we did this because we found the bag of dried beans buried in our cupboard which must have been at least a couple years old and so really didn't expect much to come of them other than the experiment itself. Would the results occur again if we used fresher beans or a larger bean or smaller bean?

          Unsure but since then a couple things.

          We've begun soaking our beans overnight in (Brita-filtered) cold water mixed with 1 tblspn of baking soda to create a slight alkali environment. We keep them refrigerated for that overnight soak. Rinse and wash upon emerging. They go into the stockpot with either water or a mild broth to which we add about 1 to 1.5 Tspn of baking soda.

          No salt, no acids until the beans are noticeably softened like after 60 to 90 minutes. Even the Harrington smoked ham hocks are held off until the beans have begun to yield. At that point the other spices, acids, flavors etc can get mixed in without disrupting the rehydrating and cooking process. Supposedly the baking soda (alkali environment) allows the beans to absorb and hold more moisture and do so sooner than even the unadulterated water only cook process.

          I don't profess to understand the chemistry of why salts or acids interfere with the rehydration process other than to confirm that it did, in our kitchen once (well actually twice when I couldn't get a batch of beans to soften.....which I had salted, covered with tomatoes and a couple diced jalapeños).

          Since then we go the conventional wisdom approach with the addition of a little baking soda. We've also discovered that using a high quality bean source that sells 'fresh' dried beans: like rancho gordo beans makes a big difference as well.

          1. re: ThanksVille

            You had two variables in your experiment, salt and tomatoes (acid). It is thus impossible to determine if the differences were due to one or the other, or both in combination.

            1. re: kmcarr

              Exactly. ThanksVille states, "the second got 1 tblspn of kosher salt and one cup of chopped tomatoes" then goes on comparing the two as if it was just salt or no-salt. It's the acid in the tomatoes, not the salt...

        2. Are you just using the slow cooker, or have you tried a stove top method? Get the stove top working first.

          1. Are you giving them enough time time to pre-soak, like overnight?

            1. Here is what I have tried: 1. Yes, I have added salt. That could indeed be the problem. Bad instructions. 2. I have soaked overnight, then boiled, and then put in the slow cooker for a few hours, and they are still hard. 3. I do use filtered water.

              Does anyone have a surefire method they've used and that seems to work every time?

              thanks again!!

              6 Replies
              1. re: MyKitchen

                Skip the slow cooker - bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Any bean should be done in a couple of hours this way. Lentils don't need presoaking, and will be tender in 30-60 minutes.

                My guess is that your slow cooker is not hot enough.

                1. re: paulj

                  Thanks! How long do you pre-soak? Overnight?

                  1. re: MyKitchen

                    Here's the "recipe" for the soaking step from Cook's Illustrated: 1 lb dried beans, 3 Tbsp table salt, 4 qt water. Soak 8-24 hours (Cook's Illustrated says at room temperature, but I refrigerate). Drain and rinse well before cooking.

                    Be wary about using slow cooker for beans -- see . To quote a relevant part: "If the beans are cooked at a temperature below boiling (without a preliminary boil), as in a slow cooker, the toxic effect of haemagglutinin is increased: beans cooked at 80 °C (176 °F) are reported to be up five times as toxic as raw beans. Outbreaks of poisoning have been associated with cooking kidney beans in slow cookers."

                    1. re: drongo

                      I too have had great success with the Cook's Illustrated method. Perfect beans every time. Never used a slow cooker for beans.

                    2. re: MyKitchen

                      I've actually had the best results by soaking refrigerated for 48 hours, never any problems since I started doing it that way--tender and creamy every time....

                      1. re: KSlink

                        Happy I read this post bout soaking 48 hrs as I had em soaking the same length till I got out an brough smoked trky meat a. Was trying to figure if it was soaking to long or what will be cooking in am

                2. I find the biggest problem is just not cooking them long enough..nothing worse than al dente beans so they should be soft.. I have had no luck with any cooking in a slow cooker so I just do them on the stove. To make sure they are done Anne Burrell says you need to try 5 beans. Until they are all soft, assume none are. (The reading I've done does not support the idea that adding salt to the cooking water means the beans won't get soft.)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: escondido123

                    I find overnight in a slow cooker on low gives amazingly soft beans - so a lot longer than a few hours.

                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                      Certain types of beans (kidney, butter/Lima, etc) can cause poisoning or death if not cooked at a high enough heat for a certain period of time. Slow cookers generally don't get hot enough to break down those toxins.