Bean Basics

by Apr 2, 2008


How can something as basic as dry beans stump people in the kitchen? It happens. I’ve been there. Then I found the California Dry Bean Advisory Board‘s pamphlet at Phipps Country Store in Pescadero, a small, down-home town over on the San Mateo coast just south of Half Moon Bay. That little pamphlet gave me the confidence to dig into the rows and rows of wooden bins filled with beautiful beans of all colors, all with their names and pedigree documented on little cards. I must have purchased 10 pounds of beans on my first visit. (And some popcorn. They have great popcorn there too.)

Dry Bean Basics
First, get your beans and remember this handy formula:
1 pound dry beans = approximately 2 cups dry beans = 4 – 6 cups cooked beans.
  1. Put the beans in a large bowl and rinse the beans under running water, filling the bowl and pouring off the water a few times.
  2. Fill “bean bowl” with water once more, this will be your soaking water. Water should cover the beans by at least 3 or 4 inches. Remove any floaters and discard them.
Next, choose one of the following soaking methods:
  • Overnight SoakSet the bean bowl in the fridge overnight. The next day, dump the beans into a colander and discard the soaking liquid. Beans are ready to cook.
  • Quick SoakPut the beans into a large stockpot and fill the pot with water to cover the beans by 4 – 5 inches. Over medium high heat, boil the beans for 3 minutes then turn off the heat, cover the pot and let beans sit for at least 1 hour, ideally 4 – 12 hours (I know, that’s not exactly “quick”, but beans are a zen food…enjoy the pace!

Now you are ready to cook the beans!

(This method assumes you are using 1 pound of dry beans, which will yield 4 – 6 cups cooked beans. If you want to make more, just increase the salt accordingly.)


  1. Rinse beans, discarding soaking water.
  2. Heat 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large stockpot or enamel cast iron dutch oven over medium heat. Add a chopped onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add ½ teaspoon chopped garlic and cook briefly, until fragrant, 1 – 2 minutes.
  3. Add 2 teaspoons salt and any other spices for seasoning, I like 2 teaspoons of herbes de Provence. Add fresh water to cover beans by an inch or two and boil gently until tender, usually 1 – 1 ½ hours. (Or put in slow cooker on low for 8 hours.)
  4. Once tender, drain and discard any remaining water. Beans will keep in refrigerator for several days, or freeze part of them for another time.


Amy’s Kitchen Coach Tips:

  • The above recipe is my favorite way to prepare white cannellini beans. They are great as is with a drizzle of olive oil or under a piece of grilled fish.
  • Turn some of the beans into a soup. Set aside a cup or two of the whole beans then puree the remaining ones right in the cooking pot with an immersion blender, then add back the reserved beans. Or puree the whole thing for a smoother soup.
  • Use this basic recipe for any kind of beans. You can even omit the onion and seasonings and just have plain, cooked beans — you may never want to buy canned again!
  • This recipe uses salt during cooking and produces nicely cooked cannellinis with creamy interiors. Harold McGee, trusted food scientist, in On Food & Cooking, says cooking beans with salt can lead to a more mealy internal texture, rather than a creamy one.  Sometimes I add salt, sometimes I don’t.  The jury is still out.

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