Dried beans should be soaked in cold water overnight to ensure even cooking. That is the unquestioned ideal of bean cookery. If you have fairly freshly harvested and recently dried beans, soaking is less needed, but if you're not sure how long those beans have been dried and waiting to be cooked, soaking really is your best bet. Not soaking the dried beans can lead to horribly undercooked or unevenly cooked beans and you're likely to end up with beans with split skins and an unappetizing level of mushiness as you seek to cook them until they're tender.
If you are craving beans or need them for a recipe, but didn't plan ahead, don't worry. There is a quick-soak method for beans that will work very well and will only take up about an hour of your time. Your beans will be soaked and ready to use in just five easy steps.
5 Easy Steps for Quick-Soaking Beans
If you can't soak overnight, follow these steps:
- Pick over the beans to remove any things hanging out with them that aren't beans (i.e. pebbles). Put the beans in a colander or sieve and rinse them clean in cool running water.
- Put the rinsed, drained beans in a large pot and cover them with cool water. The water should cover the beans by about 3 inches.
- Bring the beans and water almost to a boil. You want small bubbles to appear around the edges of the pot without the entire contents to start bubbling away. Cover the pot and remove it from the heat.
- Let the pot sit, covered, for 1 hour.
- Drain the beans and proceed with the recipe after whatever soaking step it may call for.
Using Quick-Soaked Beans
The beans are now considered "soaked" and ready to cook. This method is useful for pretty much any type of bean recipe, whether you want to make baked beans, black beans, or bean soup. Even things like bean salads, rice and beans, and other bean soups benefit from this treatment. If you don't need all the beans you soaked, store them in a sealed zip-top bag in the freezer with all the air removed. Label the bag as pre-soaked beans and use them next time you find yourself cooking beans.
If you want to keep things wonderfully, utterly simple, follow these directions for cooking beans. The result will be deeply flavorful beans that are flavorful precisely because they taste most distinctly of beans. A wee bit of a bonus prize: this quick-soaking and draining of the beans will make them less gas-inducing than their unsoaked brethren.
Note that lentils and other quicker-cooking legumes don't need to be soaked, and so don't benefit from the quick-soak method. The same goes for truly fresh (that is, not dried) beans, such as cranberry or other shelling beans that you may find sold still in their pods at the market and ready to cook right after being shelled.