How to Cook Beans: A Simple Guide

People are often confused about how to cook beans or pulses. The good news is that it couldn't be easier. It takes a little more time than using cans but it's certainly not hard work. And there are plenty of advantages to cooking your own over using cans.

As well as being a lot more economical,the flavour and texture of home cooked beans is far superior. So if you want to know how to cook beans, read on. Here's what you need to know.


1. Wash Them

Rinse the beans in plenty of cold water and drain in a colander. At this stage, it is usually advised to watch out for small stones that might be mixed in with the beans. Don't be put off by this. In reality, I have very, very rarely found stones, particularly when buying in relatively small quantities from a reliable wholefood shop as most of us do.

2. Soak Them

Most beans need to be soaked overnight although there are exceptions. Lentils, black-eyed peas (black-eyed peas), mung beans and split peas do not need to be soaked.  For all other varieties, put the beans in a large bowl or pan.  Cover with roughly twice their volume of cold water and soak overnight.  Drain and rinse.

Alternatively, you can quick soak.  This is really handy if you forget to soak your beans the night before as I frequently do.  To do this, put the beans in a large saucepan and cover with boiling water.  Boil vigorously for 5 minutes and then leave for an hour - or more.  I have often quick soaked beans in the morning, leaving them in the hot water in a covered pan until I get home in the evening.  With softer varieties, e.g. haricots, I often find that they don't even require further cooking which makes the method pretty energy efficient too.

3. How To Cook Beans - Get Cooking

After soaking, cover them in twice their volume of water.  Bring to the boil and simmer until tender.  Cooking times vary hugely, not only because of the variety of beans you are using but also because of their quality and age.

Once they are close to the recommended cooking time, check them quite regularly. Most varieties are difficult to overcook so you won't need to stand over them. Just remember, canned beans have usually been sitting in liquid for months before you use them so they will almost always be softer than the beans you cook at home.

Dried varieties will always be slightly al dente which, for me, is one of the things I like about them. Don't add salt when you cook beans. It just makes them tough. If you want to add salt, wait until they are cooked.

How To Cook Beans - Approximate Cooking Times

Variety Need to Soak? Approximate Cooking Time
Adzuki beans Yes 30-40 minutes
Black-eyed peas (black-eyed peas) No 30-40 minutes
Butter beans (lima beans) Yes 1-1½ hours
Chickpeas Yes 40 minutes to 1 hour
Haricots Yes 30-40 minutes
Lentils (split red) No 10-20 minutes
Lentils (whole green, brown,puy) No 30-40 minutes
Mung beans No 30-40 minutes
Pinto beans Yes 45 minutes to 1 hour
Soy bean Yes 1½ to 2 hours

Buying And Storing Beans

While they do keep for months or even years, all pulses gradually become harder and drier. For that reason, it's best to buy them in relatively small quantities and store them in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.

Freezing Beans

You can put batches of cooked beans into freezer bags and freeze as they are so it's always worth cooking a large batch.


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