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How to make dried beans rehydrate evenly?

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  • wisew Mar 4, 2014 04:03 PM
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So today I cooked dried green lentils. They are at this point, a bit old (I bought them maybe in October?), and who knows how old they were when I bought them since they were from my grocery store's bulk section. I cooked them the way I normally do:

1. Washed lentils, added them to the pot. (did not presoak because they're lentils)
2. Added enough water to cover by about an inch.
3. Brought the mixture to a boil, then lowered it to a simmer.
4. Added spices (nothing with added salt - cloves, cardamom, onion powder).
5. Stirred regularly.
6. After 30 mins, started tasting beans to see if they were ready - tasted about 10, and they were all soft.
7. Added salt, let simmer for a few more minutes, then drained.

When I go to eat them later, I find that most of them are still hard - somehow only about 1/3 of them got fully rehydrated and soft from the cooking process.

Where did I go wrong? Should I be soaking old lentils?

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  1. I learned from an Indian cook to presoak lentils. I recommend presoaking them for several hours, or all day while you are at work. They will cook up much faster and nicer that way.

    Even though I use a pressure cooker for cooking other legumes, I still presoak. In fact I like my beans best when they have been soaked overnight and pressure cooked the next morning.

    The final product is more likely to be evenly cooked with presoaking.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sueatmo

      Yes, I never presoaked lentils either until some Indian friends convinced me that what I was reading on the Indian packaging and in Indian cookbooks was correct - that lentils DO require some presoaking. I was stubborn, but I was wrong. Presoaking does work and is absolutely required for black lentils and some others.

    2. My last batch of red lentil used in soup just never got tender.
      I've been successful cooking beans with my pressure cooker.

      10 Replies
      1. re: monavano

        Red lentils get soft faster than any other lentil variety. Did you cook them with an acidic ingredient? If so, that's your problem.

        1. re: greygarious

          There may have been some tomatoes in there- can't quite remember. It was a cauliflower and red lentil soup, and most times, I use whatever's on hand that needs to be used up and never write it down.

          1. re: monavano

            that'll do it -- the acid from the tomatoes (or from molasses!!) will keep the peas/beans/lentils from getting soft.

            Salt will not, however, affect softening (but it will affect flavor)

            1. re: sunshine842

              wow,good to know!

              1. re: sunshine842

                And yet, I've made a Jamie Oliver bean recipe that includes chopped tomato from the very beginning. The beans were soft and delicious. There's a growing understanding that salt can be added to the seasoning early on when cooking dry beans, and that they don't necessarily need to be soaked, a la Jacques Pepin's method.

                1. re: Gio

                  with all of these rules, it's important to remember that it's the dose that makes the poison. a little bit of chopped tomato won't make much of a difference and neither will a little bit of salt. but an extremely acidic base will stop it dead. that's the secret to boston baked beans -- you cook them first, then add the molasses flavorings and cook them for what seems like forever. it's the acidity in the molasses that keeps the beans from collapsing into mush.

                  1. re: FED

                    And some water is acidic, like ours.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      huge issue in some places. visiting a friend and cooking split peas and they never softened. WTF? in LA, they're falling apart in 30 minutes.

                      1. re: FED

                        In Austin, the water is very alkaline, so I never have that problem. I wouldn't know what to do if my water was of higher pH. Baking soda?

                        1. re: rudeboy

                          bottled or filtered -- baking soda (mentioned below) alters the taste and even the color.

        2. I've never found it necessary to soak lentils or split peas. Perhaps you forgot to stir, and/or did not cover the pot?

          1 Reply
          1. re: greygarious

            I didn't cover the pot, but most sources I've found for bean cooking say to not cover the pot, so I've never done that.

          2. like sueatmo, i have found that lentils (green and brown lentils in particular) cook up better if they have been presoaked.

            7 Replies
            1. re: westsidegal

              How long do you soak for?
              I find unsoaked cook in around 30 min.

              As a side note, I usually don't want legumes to cook too fast in most cases. I find they take on more flavor the longer they cook in a flavorful cooking liquid. Cooking chickpeas for hummus in salted water, I'll shoot for fast but doing something like Cuban black bean I want them to cook longer to pick up the flavors from the aromatics I've added

              1. re: scubadoo97

                When I worked, I soaked them all day, as my Indian advisor recommended. Now I soak them probably a couple or three hours.

                I've thought about the flavor thing. I have decided that the legumes must absorb flavors right before becoming tender. Otherwise pressure cooking them would not work well flavorwise. But indeed it does. If I soak beans overnight with a bay leaf and peppercorns, I have seen no discernible difference in flavor after cooking.

                In my opinion, which might not be correct, soaking doesn't preclude good flavor.

                1. re: sueatmo

                  Pressure cooking is different. You get flavor development faster under pressure but presoaked and pressure cooked would take all of around 8-10 min which is kinda short even with a pressure cooker to get the depth of flavor from the aromatics

                  Personal experiences has been my black beans have way more depth of flavor when I cook them from dry and not soak then when I soak in an open vessel.

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    I have tasted undercooked beans from the PC and I couldn't detect any taste from the aromatics. On the soaking, I don't know. I get lovely beans when I soak them thoroughly. But then I hate unevenly cooked beans. I want them all creamy.

                2. re: scubadoo97

                  Yes that's why you should cook in salted water from the beginning .

                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    All the time CH. I even salt the presoaked water if I do soak

                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      Does this apply even if I'm not cooking in a pressure cooker? (I'll experiment with it either way, but it's good to know.)

                3. Adding a piece of Kombu to beans helps them break down.

                  I also make most of my beans now overnight in the crockpot. It is about a 2 to 1 ratio for water to beans. If you plug them in and leave them overnight for 8 or so hours, they turn perfect.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: adventuresinbaking

                    I see the claims but never see the reason why

                    Does anyone know the chemistry behind why kombu makes beans more digestible or makes them cook quicker or more evenly?

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      No, but it does work.

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        My first guess would be by the same mechanism as baking soda -- that is, making the water more alkaline, presumably by releasing some (alkaline) substance.

                        But there are enzyme-protein interactions that result in softening/hardening, too.

                        Would love to hear from someone with actual knowledge.

                    2. Salt can and should be added at the beginning.

                      The enemy of tender legumes is acid. Acid can be present from other ingredients and/or from acidic water. It can be countered with the addition of baking soda to the water.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: sandylc

                        but **sparingly** -- baking soda will give beans a decidedly metallic off-taste, and can even cause a bluish cast to light-colored beans.

                        (trying to sprinkle clumpy baking soda over the pan is not such a great idea....)

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          Good point!

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            I can taste even a tiny sprinkling of baking soda in beans and it's offputting

                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              Me,too!

                            2. re: sunshine842

                              I think I'd rather soak as add soda. Doesn't soda do something to the nutritional content? Or is that an old wives' tale?

                              Soaking thoroughly will help the beans cook with less tummy upset after the meal.

                              1. re: sueatmo

                                Soaking will not neutralize an acidic environment. My water is really acidic here.

                                I've read that the tummy upset can be gotten rid of best by boiling the beans for five minutes and discarding the water and starting over. Soaking and discarding the soaking water might have a similar effect in removing the gassy parts.

                                I have read about the nutritional part of baking soda, but it just doesn't make sense to me. What if your water is alkaline? Does that reduce the nutritional content, too?

                                1. re: sandylc

                                  In a nutshell, what causes people discomfort is some complex sugars in the beans. When you soak the beans, they sort of "wake up" and start breaking down those sugars (which is why you see gas bubbles after you soak beans - that's as a result of the sugar breakdown).

                                  The method you're talking about (not sure if that's the standard - the ones I've seen I think have you leaving the beans in the hot water after boiling and covering) is supposed to be a quick way of getting the same process going.

                                  1. re: wisew

                                    sorry, no. soaking does almost nothing to leach out the sugars (oligosaccharides). those bubbles are air escaping from the dried beans. makes sense when you think about it -- the sugars are what the beans need to sprout/soaking is the first stage of germination. Hot soaking does reduce the sugars a little bit, because the boiling water breaks down the cellulose that holds the sugars. but you'd have to hot soak repeatedly to get anything like a noticeable reduction. there are other reasons to soak -- shortened cooking time (greater or lesser depending on the variety), and more even hydration (again, greater or lesser depending on the variety). but the reduction in sugars is not one of them.

                          2. Use a pressure cooker.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: jpc8015

                              Pressure cooking is the way I do beans. But I still like to soak. I get a more evenly cooked pot that way.

                              1. re: jpc8015

                                I'd love to, but since I don't have one that's not really an option.

                                1. re: wisew

                                  Get one. It is a wise investment.

                                  1. re: jpc8015

                                    for a lot more than beans!

                              2. I'm wondering if it was the cooking method. I've been cooking legumes for four decades, or more, and it's pretty much an all or nothing thing in my experience. I offer that it might have been two different lentil crops that were mixed in the bulk. Like last year's and this year's?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: lemons

                                  Yeah I've been wondering that too - I think that's pretty likely since it was from the bulk section of my grocery store. They might've been trying to get rid of their old stock and mixed it in with the newer crop.

                                2. i have never soaked lentils or split peas. and i usually cover the pot for at least part of the cooking. i really hate the use of baking soda as a softener. technically, it works, but it leaves a slightly slimy texture and does affect the flavor.