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Sound Food Swap: Dried Beans

How much cheaper are dried beans, and how do you cook them anyway?

Beans (and other legumes like chickpeas and lentils) are a great way to pack a lot of nutrition into your diet without breaking the bank. In fact, one cup of cooked beans will only set you back about $0.25, so dig out that stock pot and lets get simmering!

The Cost Breakdown

Canned beans: $1.89 for 15 oz (Safeway Signature)
Dried beans: $0.50 for 1/4 pound (makes 15 oz cooked beans)

Canned beans are convenient, and I will buy and use them in a pinch – they are still an affordable source of good nutrition and flavor. But if you eat beans regularly, learning to cook them yourself pays dividends  – not only are they cheaper, but they taste better and have a nicer texture as well. And if you utilize your freezer you can have containers of frozen beans at the ready, meaning you only need to really cook them once a month or so.

Boiling Your Own Beans

No matter what type of bean (black, kidney, pinto or other), the technique doesn’t change too much. There are 2 basic steps:

Step 1: 4-12 hour soak
Step 2: 2 hour-ish simmer

*A note on soaking: Turns out beans can be cooked without soaking, they will just need more water when cooking and they will need an additional hour or so of simmering. I’ve made mine both ways and end up with perfectly delicious beans either way, but I do prefer a shorter simmer time since it is slightly more hands-on (checking to make sure the beans are always covered with water, stirring occasionally and monitoring the heat).

*Another note on soaking: You can also use the “quick soak” method – where you bring your pot of (unsoaked) beans to a boil, turn off the heat, and let them sit for one hour before cooking.

Some Details & Recipes

  • Soaking: Beans will expand slightly when soaking, so use a big bowl! Cover beans with at least 2 inches of water, cover (I use a kitchen towel but anything will do), and forget about them for 4-12 hours
  • Simmering: Make sure beans are covered by another 2 inches of water and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Avoid cooking them at a rolling boil the whole time, as the outside of the bean will cook too quickly and many will break open. Add water to keep beans covered if needed.
  • Seasoning: Why make a plain pot-o-beans when you can add some flavor? For basic beans, I like to throw an onion half, a few cloves of peeled garlic, and some salt into the pot as it simmers. The flavor possibilities are endless.
  • Storing: Cooked beans will last in the fridge for up to five days (best when stored in their cooking liquid)
  • Freezing: Never make a single batch of beans – that’s madness! Double up, and freeze half – pour cooked and cooled beans into a freezer container (plastic bag, plastic container, or a glass container if you’re careful – they can crack if overfilled) along with their juices and freeze for up to six months. Full disclosure, they may be a little mushy after freezing and thawing – but are still great in soups and stews or as refried beans.
  • More details: This New York Times guide to cooking beans goes into even more detail if you want it.
  • Recipes:

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