Friday, February 10, 2012

So You Forgot To Soak The Beans?

So many beautiful beans in the world...
This is a perpetual issue for me - I can remember to get dinner going early enough, but I think I have remembered to give my beans am overnight soak maybe half a dozen times in my adult life. For years this frequently prevented me from cooking bean recipes.

Finally I read Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, in which he does not insist on pre-soaking beans.

"[The myth of soaking beans...] is the most egregious, and the most harmful , because it has given millions of people the idea that beans must be prepared well in advance. Although soaking speeds cooking, it does not do so significantly. If you soak most beans overnight you will shave fifteen to thirty minutes off the cooking time."
(Bittman; How to Cook Everything; pg. 500)

Equipped with his ideas I began to explore cooking beans in a satisfactory and short-sighted way that works for me.

Bittman's recommendation is to cover the beans with water, bring to a boil, cover loosely, and simmer (stirring occasionally) till done.

I tried this with several types of beans and found it worked, but didn't quite cook the beans to my taste. My adaptations work as follows:

Warm water in a tea kettle and pour over rinsed beans. Lid the soaking beans and let sit for 30 minutes or more. Strain and rinse.

Stove Top:
Put the beans, a teaspoon of baking soda (I use about one teaspoon per cup if dry beans - very approximate) and ample water in the cooking pan. Turn on high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer till the beans are tender. This should be between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the beans. I never time them, but instead check them periodically.

Slow Cooker:
Place the beans, baking soda, and ample water in the slow cooker. I then turn mine to high for 6 hours. This might make my beans a little mushy, but I usually check them frequently throughout the day if I am home and turn the cooker off when they are done.

This works especially well with fresh beans, such as the heirlooms I have been playing with from Lonesome Whistle. And if you are cooking beans, make a double batch. Take half of the soaked beans and freeze them in their soaking water. They are ready to cook when you have even less time than usual!


As an aside, I highly recommend Bittman's book. It's an excellent go-to for any and (almost) all cooking questions.


  1. You could leave out the baking soda. From what I understand (and from what Bittman says), you add baking soda when you want beans mushy, such as if you're making a dip. Otherwise, leave it out; or he says you can add an acid to help keep the beans more whole. I use the quick boil & soak & rinse all the time, and it's a great technique.

  2. You are totally right, and I had forgotten the lemon. Silly me. I like the soda in the slow cooker because (for whatever reason) it seems to get the bean cooked more thoroughly.

  3. Something I have done for years when I cook beans is to drop a piece of kombu (a type of seaweed) into the beans when I cook them. The benefits are multi-fold the beans get a nice dose of minerals; a bit of natural sea salt added to flavor; finally, it also helps eliminate the gas problem that some people experience. Sometimes I leave it in the cooked beans and sometimes I remove it. You pick.

  4. We discovered the miracle of the pressure cooker. We get beans cooked in about 40 minutes with a fraction of propane used.