Beans have so much going for them. They're easy to prepare, healthy, and go a long way on not much money.

By Carl Hanson
Updated November 12, 2020
Chef John's Cassoulet in a red cocotte
Credit: catherine.drew

Beans have so much going for them. They're easy to prepare, healthy, and go a long way on not much money.

For such tiny things, beans offer some pretty big health benefits. Not only are they high in protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, and iron, but beans can also lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of cancer, and protect against ulcers.

Beans are a terrific source of dietary fiber, which helps make you feel full. But they're also a starch, and starches tend to break down easily and become quickly digested. So how can beans have it both ways? Beans contain a chain of molecules that resist easy, early digestion. Instead of quickly turning to glucose, beans persist as a food source for the healthy bacteria living further down the digestive tract. That's why beans are known as a "resistant starch." To make the starch in cooked beans even more resistant to easy digestion, consider cooling them after cooking and then reheating them for use.

Canned Beans vs. Bulk Beans

Canned beans offer the convenience of being fully cooked and ready to add to any recipe -- perfect for the busy home cook. And you can modify your recipe to account for any seasonings canned beans may contain (check the labels to see what's been added).

_Canned and Dry Beans
Photo by Meredith

When you scoop beans in bulk, you'll often have more choices than the canned offerings. You'll also have control over how your beans are cooked: Canned beans may contain salt and other spices or seasonings. Store dry beans in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.

Substituting Canned Beans for Dry Beans

If you want to use dry beans in a recipe that calls for canned, keep in mind that most dry beans will triple in volume when fully cooked. And if you're using black beans, navy beans, split peas, or garbanzos, they will nearly quadruple in size.

Soaking Beans

For the best results, soak your beans overnight.

  • Rinse beans in cold water, picking out any shrunken ones as well as pebbles or grass (beans are very much a product of the earth and even the highest-quality brands may have dust and little rocks in them).
  • Place in a pot with at least three cups of water for every cup of beans--refrigerate overnight.
  • Discard any beans that float to the top--these are most likely hollow or damaged in some way.

In a time pinch? Do a quick-soak about an hour beforehand.

Soaking Dry Beans
Photo by Meredith

Quick Soaking Beans

  • Rinse and pick through beans, then place them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by two inches.
  • Bring to a boil, cap the pot with a snug-fitting lid, remove from the heat and let sit for one hour.
  • You can either keep the cooking water and proceed with your recipe, or you can drain the beans and start again with fresh water.

Note: The exception to the soaking rule is lentils. These are so small that they don't need to be soaked at all. Just rinse and cover with plenty of water, then simmer for about half and hour.

Cooking Beans

When you're ready to cook the soaked beans, drain them, and cover them with fresh water.

  • Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
  • Check periodically and keep enough water in the pot so beans are always under at least ¼ inch of liquid.
  • Once soaked, beans will take between one and two hours to cook, depending on their size.

VIDEO: Quick and Easy Black Bean Soup

Here's a quick and delicious black bean soup that's ready in just a fraction of the time it takes to make soup from dried beans. Watch the video to see a great technique for creating excellent texture and thickness. You'll also see how to make a tasty garnish that adds color, texture, and bright, balancing flavor to your black bean soup.

Bean Recipe Collections: