A passion for beans

Elizabeth Berry nurtures her specialty beans as if they were members of the family. She's aided in her obsession by chef-friends who love to cook with them.

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BEAN BASICS

How to soak. Sort beans for debris, then rinse. For every 2 cups dried beans, bring beans and 2 quarts water to a boil over high heat in a 5- to 6-quart pan. Cover, boil for 2 minutes, and remove from heat. Beans are ready to cook after soaking for 2 hours, but are more digestible after 4 hours. To use, drain and rinse.

If cooked without soaking, beans will require more liquid and more time than our recipes note.

Adding salt and acidic foods. If stirred in too early, ingredients such as tomatoes, wine, and citrus juices can toughen beans and slow down cooking. Wait to add them until 15 to 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

How much to cook. One pound of dried beans (about 21/4 cups) yields 5 to 6 cups cooked.

How long to cook. Different beans vary in the time they need to get tender, and in their natural creaminess versus starchiness. Also, you may want them firm for some uses, softer for others. Most beans lose their shape as they get soft, so watch them carefully toward the end of the cooking time to get the texture you want.

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