Cooking dry beans is one of the easiest, healthiest, and cheapest ways to eat well. There are several benefits to cooking dry beans:
1) They are almost always cheaper than their canned counterparts.
2) You can control what goes into the beans, such as what kind of water is used (filtered vs. tap), how much salt is added (if any), etc.
3) If you buy dry beans in bulk, not only is it cheaper than canned beans, it also saves on packaging and reduces waste.
4) You can avoid eating beans from BPA-lined cans, which is a concern for many people.
5) They are healthy – high in fiber, high in protein, low in fat, excellent source of vitamins and minerals – and delicious!
We first started cooking dry beans a couple years ago when we were looking at ways to tighten our grocery budget so that we could afford to spend a bit more at the farmer’s market. I tried cooking beans on the stovetop, but found that it was hard for me to fit bean cooking into my busy schedule. I just didn’t have four plus hours to wait for the beans to quick soak and then cook. Enter the crockpot! I quickly discovered that using a crockpot to cook dry beans was not only easy but also tasty. The texture of the beans from crockpot cooking is nice and soft, as opposed to the more grainy beans we were eating from the stove top.
So here is the crockpot method. It works great with a variety of different beans!*
The night before, pour any amount of dry beans into the crockpot. Be sure to sort through the beans and pull out any stones that might be in there as well as any beans that look funny. Cover beans with water by at least two inches and put the lid on your crockpot. Leave overnight (about 8 – 10 hours). Do not turn on the crockpot. Just leave the beans sitting in the water. They will expand quite a bit.
In the morning, drain the water from the crockpot. This is an important step if you want to avoid the more gaseous side effects of beans. Soaking the beans helps break down the sugars in them, and what is released into the soaking water is the stuff that makes beans the magical fruit. So get rid of it!
Refill the crockpot with fresh water, making sure to cover the beans by at least two inches. Sometimes I put some kosher salt in the crockpot at this point for added flavor, but if I’m cooking a big batch, I won’t so that I can season the beans in whatever dish I’m making with them.
Turn the crockpot on low and cook for 7 – 8 hours or on high for 4 – 5 hours. For your first time, you might want to give yourself a bit of extra cooking time as the times might vary for different crockpots and different beans. You’ll quickly learn how long it takes for your crockpot to cook beans. If you forget about the beans and leave them cooking too long, it’s usually ok too. The beans might be a bit softer than preferred, but as long as there’s plenty of water in the crockpot, you should be fine.
Now the beans are ready to use! Eat them with homemade cornbread or rice topped with cheese, salsa, and a bit of cilantro for a simple, delicious, filling meal. Add them to soups or make a simple bean dip (like the recipe below).
Cooked beans are easy to store in your freezer, so cook big batches all at once to ensure you always have beans on hand. You can freeze them with or without the cooking liquid, depending on how you want to use them. For soups or hummus, I like to have the cooking liquid as it adds flavor. Just transfer the frozen container to the fridge the night before you want to use the beans so they can thaw. It’s also nice to be able to toss in a few chickpeas or beans straight from the freezer into my meal, so having some drained beans on hand is quick and convenient.. Either way works. Wide-mouth Ball jars are great for freezing with cooking liquid (just be sure to leave about 1/2-inch of head space) and freezer bags laid flat work well to store drained beans. (A tip for freezing things in bags: Once you have filled your bag, lay it flat and press out the extra air. Seal the bag most of the way closed. Insert a drinking straw into the last 1/4-inch of open space in the zipper, suck the remaining air out of the bag, and close it quickly. This will save on room in your freezer and will keep foods fresher. Stack flat bags on top of each other for easy storage and access.)
*CAUTION about red kidney beans: Red kidney beans have a natural toxin in them that might not be destroyed if your crockpot doesn’t reach a high enough temperature, so you’ll want to boil your red kidney beans for at least 10 minutes in fresh water after you have soaked and drained them to ensure safety. After the 10 minute boil, continue with the cooking process as usual. (Thanks to Stephanie at A Year of Slow Cooking for this helpful information! http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/)
BLACK BEAN DIP RECIPE
From The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home with my notes/ changes in parentheses
2 cups cooked drained black beans
1 tsp ground toasted cumin seeds (or just plain ground cumin if that’s what you’ve got)
1/2 tsp ground coriander
pinch of cayenne
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
2/3 cup chopped fresh parsley (I usually substitute cilantro for parsley)
1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp fresh lemon juice (lime juice also works well)
salt to taste
Drain the beans, place them in a shallow bowl, and mash them well with a fork. Stir in the cumin, coriander, cayenne, garlic, parsley, olive oil, and lemon juice. Mix thoroughly. Add salt to taste.
Jocelyn is a freelance theater director in Columbus, Ohio. She loves cooking real food vegetarian meals for friends and family. She is married to Mark, who makes the best homemade pies and corn tortillas around. When she isn’t at the theater, she can be found working part-time in a neighborhood bakery, working in her container garden, preserving fruits and veggies, going for walks, reading, or watching movies with Mark.