Dried beans are a great money-saver, but using them means you need to plan ahead a bit and have a few hours to cook the beans. If you make your menus ahead of time, you can plan this out fairly easily and just cook them on the weekend or start a pot of beans while you’re fixing dinner the night before you want to eat the beans. They’ll generally take a couple of hours to cook. Some beans cook faster than others.
Beans that Quick In Less than an Hour
First, are the lentils and split peas. These do not need any soaking time and generally cook in about 50 minutes so if you’re in a hurry, relatively speaking, these are the legumes you want.
Beans that Cook in About an Hour
Turtle beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, split peas, great northern and white (navy) beans all take about an hour, longer if you don’t soak them. Remember though, if you forget to soak them ahead of time, just cook them a bit longer.
Beans that Need Two Hours or So
Other beans, including chickpeas, black beans, and pinto beans take 2 hours to cook, if you’ve soaked them and a bit longer if you haven’t. Also, older dried beans take longer to cook as well.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, just cook a pound or two of beans, whatever suits your family size, and freeze leftovers in 2 cup portions. Include some of the cooking liquid in the beans so they will reheat without scorching. To keep your freezer organized, keep all the smaller bags of beans (well marked of course!) in a larger gallon sized zip lock freezer bag so you don’t lose them! (It also helps to keep an inventory of what’s in your freezer.)
Using a Pressure Cooker to Speed Things Up
I don’t have a pressure cooker but would be very tempted to buy one if I was cooking for more people these days. The newer ones are supposed to be very safe and easy to use. Beans that take 2 to 3 hours to cook on the stove take only 15 to 20 minutes in a pressure cooker!
Using Your Crockpot or Slow Cooker to Cook Beans
You can also cook beans in your slow cooker. They take a long time, but it’s unattended time. Start them at night before you go to bed and check them in the morning. The cooking times will vary drastically depending on how old/new your slow cooker is, as the new ones cook at a higher temperature than the old ones. Refer to the booklet that came with your slow cooker or search online for a replacement user guide.
A Few Easy Bean Recipes to Get You Started
First, always look on the package of your beans and get some ideas on their recommended cooking times. If you’re going to soak them, you can soak them in a large pot of water overnight and cook them the next day. If it’s noon and you suddenly decide you want to make beans, put them in a large pot of water, bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the beans, and let them sit for an hour. Either way, drain the soaking water and use fresh water to cook the beans.
All-Purpose Cooked Beans
Thanks to Mary of OwlHaven and her book Family Feasts for $75 a Week: A Penny-wise Mom Shares Her Recipe for Cutting Hundreds from Your Monthly Food Bill for this great flexible bean recipe. I did not soak my pinto beans when I made this, as I am usually happy to just cook an extra hour or so and skip the soaking. Her original recipe called for 2 pounds of beans but I’m only feeding 3 of us so halved that and froze 2/3s of them in two 2 cup portions for later.
- 1 pound dried pinto beans (or whatever you’d like, adjust the cooking time accordingly)
- 6 cups water
- 2 Tbs bacon grease (or other fat like butter or oil for vegetarian)
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
She also called for 1/4 tsp ground red pepper but I don’t have that so just added a pinch of red pepper flakes into the mix.
Bring all this to a boil, turn down, cover partially and simmer until the beans are soft (but not mushy).
An Even Easier Pinto Bean Recipe
This is from Feed Your Family Fast, Healthy Meals on $10 a Day. Again, I generally don’t soak the beans but just cook a bit longer than mentioned in my list above.
- 1 pound pinto beans
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 Tbs chili powder
- 1 ham hock (could also use a few strips of bacon)
Put the beans in a pot, remembering that they will swell to about 3 times their dried state once cooked. Cover with two inches of water. Add the onion, chili powder, and ham hock. Bring to a boil, stir everything, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover loosely and cook until done.
So experiment a bit! And don’t forget to check out your local smaller ethnic grocery stores for better prices on dried beans and other foods. Our local Indian grocery has 2 pound bags of lots of different beans for less than half the price of a 1 pound bag in the chain supermarket.