Except for the whole time and convenience thing, dried beans are so much better than canned beans, in so many ways. They’re cheaper, they taste richer and more flavorful, and you can better control the fat and, especially, the sodium content.
Of course, the time and convenience thing is pretty big. Not everybody thinks ahead enough so they have time to soak beans overnight and then cook them a few hours too. But what if I told you something big about dried beans – that you don’t have to soak them first?
Yes, I know that goes against pretty much everything you have probably been told about beans, and what you and your family have probably been doing for years. But it’s true. It’s what cooks do in many other countries, including Mexico. And more American cooks are finally coming around to this idea.
The main idea behind soaking dried beans was to diminish cooking time. But newer varieties of beans have been bred to absorb water more quickly, so they cook more quickly anyway. Additionally, some cooking experts say that soaking beans strips them of some of the flavor.
So you can take the beans straight from the bag into the pot, and they’ll still be done in a couple of hours.
I’ve cooked dried beans – pintos, black beans, navy beans, you name it – both ways, with soaking and without. And really, about the only time soaking seems to make a difference is when the beans were old, and had been sitting in the back of the pantry for a year or two. (Actually, if dried beans don’t ever get soft enough to eat, that’s probably the problem, not your cooking technique; your beans were probably old.)
The other thing you ought to try with dried beans? Don’t wait to salt them till the end. Again, that’s what most of us have been trained to do, believing that if you salt them earlier, they’ll never soften. However, again, I have found that not to be true. Try adding salt mid-way or three-quarters through the cooking time. That way the beans, not just the broth, get well-seasoned.