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How to Prepare Any Type of Dried Beans for a Recipe

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Vegetarian recipes, healthy foods, kitchen tips and shortcuts interest Liz, but she also likes desserts!

Dried beans come in a nearly endless variety

Dried beans come in a nearly endless variety

The Basics of the Versatile Dried Bean

While beans have a very "famous" reputation, they are nevertheless an excellent source of protein and very versatile besides. Dishes with beans can include anything from spicy to sweet: from chili to Boston baked beans. Cooked beans can be used as main dishes, side dishes, and some are even good cold in salads.

For the best nutritional boost and healthy beans, you want to begin from scratch with dried beans, not canned varieties (which are loaded with salt). This takes advance planning and time, but is not difficult in the least.

Dried beans, after simple preparation, do take several hours to cook thoroughly, but that advance planning is the key. They can be cooked in any number of ways, either baked in the oven or put into a Crock-Pot (slow-cooker) all day long. If you are going to be home, and available for frequent stirring, they can also be slow-simmered on the stovetop.

The cooking method really depends upon the recipe; any recipe that calls for stovetop cooking can just as easily be done in the Crock-Pot, while oven-baked recipes may need some adjustment in liquid content for Crock-Pot cooking, and probably will not adapt well to stovetop methods.

Another advantage to dried beans is that, stored properly, they will keep for a very long time. There are many varieties, and all are nutritious and delicious.

4 Basic Steps to Prepare Any Dried Bean

  1. Sort and rinse
  2. Soak overnight
  3. Parboil
  4. Drain and rinse

At this point, the beans will be ready to use in any recipe you wish to use them for.

I Used Small White Beans, But You Can Use Any Dried Bean

The kind of beans I used in this article are called small white beans; you can't get much simpler than that. But just to confuse the issue, they are sometimes sold in packages labeled 'navy beans,' instead.

If there is any difference, it is so subtle as to be virtually none at all.

Regardless of the type of dried bean you wish to cook, these five steps remain the same.

Dried beans come in many varieties; all are nutritious and delicious.

What You'll Need

Ingredients

  • Dried beans
  • Water

Equipment

  • Large pot
  • Large colander
  • Large strainer or sieve (optional)

Step 1: Sort and Rinse

This direction is found on all commercial packages of dried beans purchased in stores. Beans grow in bushes, but mechanical harvesting methods can sometimes incorporate unwanted bits, such as small pebbles. You sure would not want to bite into a stone—that would send you away from your meal and on an emergency trip to the dentist.

What you want to do, then, is to open your package of beans, and pour a few at a time into your hand, looking for any such foreign matter. As you clear each handful, dump them into a colander or large strainer (sieve) for rinsing. (Sometimes beans can carry a little bit of dirt with them as well, so you want to rinse them off.)

You also want to cull out any beans that are discolored or shriveled-looking.

Read More From Delishably

Photo Guide: Sort and Rinse

Beans must be sorted to check for small pebbles that may have gotten included

Beans must be sorted to check for small pebbles that may have gotten included

Also check for split, shriveled, or discolored beans and discard those

Also check for split, shriveled, or discolored beans and discard those

After sorting, rinse the beans to clear them of any bits of soil or tiny debris

After sorting, rinse the beans to clear them of any bits of soil or tiny debris

Step 2: Soak Overnight

Once your beans are all sorted and rinsed, you want to put them in a large pot and cover them with water to soak overnight. As they soak, they will swell up, so be sure to add enough cold water to allow for this so they will remain underwater. Put a lid on the pot to keep the moisture in, and any pets or dust out.

Important note: Some beans are actually mildly toxic prior to soaking and cooking, so this is an essential part of the preparation.

Photo Guide: Soak Overnight

Ready for the lid and the overnight soaking

Ready for the lid and the overnight soaking

After soaking, there will be a slight change in their color; this is normal.

After soaking, there will be a slight change in their color; this is normal.

Step 3: Parboil

Pour the soaked beans into a large colander to drain off the soaking water. Give them a quick rinse, then, put them into a large pot, and add fresh cold water.

Bring to a boil over high heat, and allow them to boil for 20 to 30 minutes or so, depending on the type of bean. The beans will create a layer of foam on top of the water as they boil. You can skim it off if it bothers you, but it is not necessary, as the water used for parboiling will be discarded anyway.

The old-fashioned way to tell if they are ready is the instruction, “boil until skins roll back when blown upon.” It’s very reliable, and I still use that method to this day. (They will boil or otherwise cook plenty long enough to kill any "germs," so don 't worry about that!)

The small white beans shown in this article were on their way to becoming my signature Boston baked beans!

Photo Guide: Parboil

Parboil the beans before putting them into your recipe for their actual cooking time. The beans will give off some foam; this is normal.  You can skim it off easily if you wish.

Parboil the beans before putting them into your recipe for their actual cooking time. The beans will give off some foam; this is normal. You can skim it off easily if you wish.

This is what you are looking for when you blow upon the beans. The skins should roll back when blown upon.

This is what you are looking for when you blow upon the beans. The skins should roll back when blown upon.

At this point, you can proceed with your recipe, and just add the beans and your other ingredients.

Parboiling (or pre-boiling) them helps reduce the overall cooking time by softening them up a bit before they are combined with the rest of the ingredients; there are few things less appetizing than biting into undercooked beans that are still semi-hard.

Step 4: Drain and Rinse

After parboiling, drain the beans and give a quick warm water rinse to get rid of any remaining foam. Now, you are ready to add the rest of the ingredients for your recipe. Use fresh water already at the boil for the water called for in your recipe.

If you use other liquid instead of water, such as broth or stock, it is helpful to have that at the boiling point, as well. That way, the beans will begin cooking at once, not having been cooled down with cold liquid that must be reheated.

A Lesson Learned the Hard Way

Not all beans are created equally.

If you are using a recipe with a mix of different types of beans, soak and parboil them separately, as different types of beans require different soaking and parboiling times.

Parboiling reduces the overall cooking time, and softens them up a fair amount, but they won't be ready to eat just yet. The rest of the cooking time is to finish the softening process and blend the recipe flavors into the beans.

Steaming-hot parboiled beans ready for the recipe. The apparent "fuzziness" in this photo is actually steam rising from the still-hot beans.

Steaming-hot parboiled beans ready for the recipe. The apparent "fuzziness" in this photo is actually steam rising from the still-hot beans.

Your Beans Are Now Ready to Use!

No matter what kind of bean recipe you are using, these first steps to prepare them remain constant.

All that is left, then, is to proceed with your recipe, cooking as directed, and enjoy!

© 2014 Liz Elias

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