Dried beans eaten fresh meaning during the season just after they have been harvested and dried–will undoubtedly be the best tasting.
But a big plus for dried beans is that they have a long shelf life if stored in a dry, cool, airtight container away from sunlight. Quite easily, you can keep dried beans on hand for more than just a season or two after they have been dried.
Beans are packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber, and they are low in fat. Beans–which are also known as pulses and are the edible seeds from plants belonging to the legume family–readily absorb the flavors of other foods. That means you can use beans as the base for many cooked dishes. That’s why beans have been adopted by so many of the world’s cuisines.
The preparation and cooking of dried beans is not difficult. It’s worth trying as many different varieties of dried beans as you can. They don’t all taste the same!
Here’s some starter tips for preparing, cooking, and serving dried beans:
Prepare. Remove unshelled beans from pods; rinse shelled beans. Place dried beans in a pot of water and swish them around. Remove discolored, shriveled, or broken beans as well as pebbles or other debris. Drain and then place beans in a colander and rinse again.
Cook. Cover dried beans with water before cooking, just enough water to cover the beans. Add additional water during cooking as needed. Dried beans also can be cooked in meat or vegetable stock. Recently harvested beans will cook more quickly than beans that have been stored for a long time. Add salt after beans have been cooked, not before otherwise they will become tough.
Soak before cooking. Beans can be pre-soaked for 8 to 12 hours before cooking. Pre-soaking will save 15 to 30 minutes of cooking time. Place the beans in a large pan or bowl and cover with water. As the beans soak, you may need to add more water. Discard the water after soaking. Use fresh water for cooking.
Boil and Simmer. Place beans in a large pot with water to cover. (Cover 1 cup of dried beans with 4 cups of water in a 3-quart saucepan.) Bring to a boil over medium heat; skim the foam if necessary. Reduce the heat and then allow the beans to simmer, cover loosely. Stir occasionally until the beans become tender, not mushy. Add salt to taste or season as beans are added to the recipe. Cook and stir gently until the beans are tender. Add additional water if necessary. Drain and serve. (1 cup of dried beans will make 2 to 2½ cups cooked beans.
Beans absorb the flavors of seasoned cooking liquid. Finish cooking with other ingredients if desired.
Serve. Beans can be served as a vegetable side dish or added to salads, soups, stews, and stir-fries, or use as a main dish. Marinate beans or bake au gratin topped with sauce or vinaigrette.
Flavor partners. Beans have a flavor affinity for almonds, bacon, butter, dill, lemon, marjoram, olive oil, orange, pine nuts, tarragon, tomatoes, and walnuts.
Beverage pairing. Still or effervescent water, beer (with black beans), Zinfandel (with red beans), Chablis or red wine (with white beans).