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How to Prepare Any Type of Dried Beans for a Recipe

Updated on September 29, 2017
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Healthy food choices, vegetarian recipes, and kitchen tips and shortcuts are an ongoing interest for this author, as well as animal welfare.

Dried Beans

Dried beans come in a nearly endless variety
Dried beans come in a nearly endless variety | Source

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.

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

  • Dried beans
  • Water
  • A large pot
  • Large colander
  • Large strainer (sieve) -- optional

Step One: 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.

Sorting And Rinsing

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 Two: 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.

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

Soak The Beans 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 Three: Parboil The Beans

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!

Parboiling The Beans

Par boil 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
Par boil 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

Skins Roll Back When Blown Upon

This is what you are looking for when you blow upon the beans
This is what you are looking for when you blow upon the beans

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 more unappetizing than biting into undercooked beans that are still semi-hard.

Step Four: 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.

Not All Beans Are Created Equally

This is a lesson I learned the hard way. 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 par-boiling 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.
The apparent "fuzziness" in this photo is actually steam rising from the still-hot beans.

Step Five: Enjoy Your Beans

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!

Have you cooked beans before?

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© 2014 Liz Elias

Comments

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  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
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    Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Huntgoddess,

    Thank you for your comment, but we will have to 'agree to disagree.' Fat in the diet should be kept to a minimum, as it is not very healthy. As for meat of any kind, well, I'm a vegetarian, so that's not anything I would even consider doing.

  • Huntgoddess profile image

    Huntgoddess 2 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

    You should always cook the beans with fatty meat. It is much healthier that way.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Sherry,

    Thanks for stopping by. I find that parboiling the beans just helps with the overall outcome; nothing to do with being in a hurry, since dried beans are not the fastest cooking things on the menu anyway. ;-)

  • Sherry Hewins profile image

    Sherry Hewins 3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

    I have not tried parboiling my beans, but usually I am not in a hurry when I cook beans.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Glimmer Twin Fan,

    Thanks very much. I hope you find this helpful in your next bean adventure! ;-)

  • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

    Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

    Really useful hub. I'm always a little wary of preparing beans, but when I do I love the results!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Kevin,

    Well, my goodness--frozen beans! That's a new one on me! I've only seen frozen green beans, not the type I'm using for this article. I guess an old gal still can learn something every day! Thanks very much for your input!

  • The Examiner-1 profile image

    The Examiner-1 3 years ago

    DzyMsLizzy,

    Thank you. I use frozen beans (no salt) but if I ever cook beans from scratch then this is useful to know.

    Kevin

  • alexadry profile image

    Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

    Thanks for clarifying that. I have been cooking beans for my hubby for years (he's a big bean lover) and I wasn't aware of all these interesting facts!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, alexadry,

    Thanks much; I'm glad you liked this article. Just be aware that the "blowing upon" trick is just for determining the end of the par-boiling stage: they are in no way cooked and ready to eat at that point. It just sort of pre-softens the outer layers to help with the real cooking, where they will get soft all the way through and absorb the flavors.

  • alexadry profile image

    Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

    This is very interesting. I didn't know about the blowing tip to see if they're cooked, will have to try it next time. I purchased last year about 25 pounds of beans when they were on sale and we are stuck with a lot but need to start eating more before they get too old!

  • mecheshier profile image

    mecheshier 3 years ago

    You are welcome. :-)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ mecheshier--So very true! Homemade is always superior! Thanks for stopping by.

    @ catgypsy--Yes, beans are great! Loaded with protein and fiber, low-calorie and easy to cook. I'm glad you liked this article; thanks very much for your nice comment.

  • catgypsy profile image

    catgypsy 3 years ago from the South

    I think beans are the perfect food! This is a great guide for anyone not knowing how to cook them. Now I'm off to check out your Boston Baked Bean recipe!

  • mecheshier profile image

    mecheshier 3 years ago

    :-) Ah, but there is nothing better than healthy homemade food

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, FlourishAnyway,

    I'm pretty fond of beans, myself. My husband has an award-winning chili recipe, that he has graciously adapted for my vegetarian preference, and it is awesome...but I'm not allowed to share his "trade secret" recipe. LOL

    Thanks so much for your comment; I'm glad you liked this article.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    I love beans, any way they are made. Butter beans and navy beans are among my favorite. It's surprising how many people do not know how to take a package of dried beans and make something good out of them, so you're doing a service here, Liz.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ Blond Logic--Beans are really pretty easy. I would want a minimum of 4 or 5 hours in a crock-pot; longer wouldn't hurt. You do get more condensation on the lid, so you lose less moisture than in the oven. That's an advantage if you can't be home all day to keep checking.

    I'm pleased you found the article useful, and I thank you for the vote and share!

    @ mecheshier--It is true! Many people have forgotten how to cook for themselves these days, so dependent have they become upon "fast food" and pre-packaged convenience foods; none of which are very healthy. I'm pleased you found the article useful, and I thank you for the vote!

  • mecheshier profile image

    mecheshier 3 years ago

    What a wonderful Hub. I find it amazing what I can sometimes take for granted. But in today's modern world many people do not have a clue on how to cook. Thanks for sharing! Voted up

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 3 years ago from Brazil

    I think I am the only person in all of Brazil who can't make beans. I will try what you suggest.

    How long would they go into a crockpot for, any ideas?

    Good clear informative photos.

    Voted up and useful and shared.