what not to rush: slow-cooked beans

I did not grow up eating beans. This is a shame, because now I eat them all the time. I do get cans of them from time to time, but for the most part, I keep two-cup containers in the freezer that can be thawed overnight in the fridge or thrown into a pot of simmering soup. They have eighteen billion times less salt1 than beans in a can. And they taste better, and you can control their place on the firm-to-mushy continuum, and they are a great foundation to fast, cheap meals. What’s not to love? Oh, yeah. They take hours. Think of it as time when you can walk away from the kitchen and pay attention to someone else.

I have a slow cooker, and if you have one, beans are no problem at all. But even if you want to do them on the stovetop, they aren’t hard. You don’t even really need to soak them if you don’t want to; I almost never do. I’ve used this method on black beans (the favorites in our house), chickpeas, white beans, pinto beans, and borlotti beans, but kidney beans should only be cooked in the traditional way because of a toxin they carry. To be honest, we use kidney beans so rarely that if I need them, I get a can of Yves or Eden beans. 

After the beans are done, you can go nuts with them. My current favorite is to sauté them with garlic, onion, cumin, chili powder, chipotle, and salsa and put them in tortillas, tacos, or on cornmeal or rice. However, slow-cooked black beans make amazing soup, too. 

Slow-Cooked Beans (any quantity; 1 cup dry beans yields 3 cups cooked beans)

  1. Pick through a quantity of beans to sort them. I spread them out on a baking sheet for this part. I have found stones in my beans, but it’s rare. Mostly, you want to pick out ones that aren’t the best color or that are damaged in some way. When I picked through my black beans, I took out ones that were closer to gray and any ones that I caught that were cracked or broken, and a few that were so tiny or wrinkly they gave me a little shudder.
  2. Pour the beans into a colander and run your fingers through them to give yourself an Amélie moment. This is “what not to rush,” remember? Then rinse the beans completely in fresh cold water. I like to see black beans in a bowl full of water, because their tiny white spots become shockingly bright somehow. If you let them sit there for a few minutes, some beans will float to the surface; get rid of those, too.
  3. SLOW COOKER: Pour the rinsed beans into the slow cooker and cover them with a large quantity of fresh water. This weekend, I used 2½ cups of dry black beans and about 2 quarts of water, which fills my slow cooker up halfway. Turn the heat to high and replace the lid.
  4. STOVETOP: Pour the rinsed beans into a large pot and cover them with water by at least two inches. Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes, then turn off the heat and let them sit for an hour. Then pour off that water, replace it with fresh water, and simmer away.
  5. I don’t season most varieties except for a little salt, because I never know what they’re going to be put into. For my black beans, though, I season after about 90 minutes of simmering: cumin, a crushed garlic clove or two, salt, and a bay leaf or two.
  6. Cooking time will vary; it depends a lot on how long your beans have been hanging around the grocery shelf (or your own shelf). Figure at least three hours and give yourself more than four; chickpeas always take less for me. I test beans by squashing them on a plate with a fork before I’ll taste one, because I’m namby-pamby that way. 
  7. Remove the beans you’re using right away and store the rest in freezer containers. I measure out two-cup portions just because that’s close to what’s in a can for recipe purposes. If you’re freezing beans, let them come to room temperature in the cooking water first. I think it helps keep the skins intact, and a little superstition never hurt anyone.

1 My math may have a tricky decimal in it somewhere.

Bonus: This recipe for black bean tostadas just came in my email. Synchronicity, yeah?