We know what you’re thinking—”Dried beans? Why bother? I can just head over to any given grocery store when I want to whip up a burrito or my grandmother’s recipe for red beans + rice or that stellar gluten-free chili you so generously wrote up a while back.”
Well we thank you for the kind words, but we must persist in our urging—dried beans will defeat your canned beans hands-down every time.
Yes, true, canned beans have that last-minute convenience that’s hard-to-beat, but the work involved in preparing dried beans is really pretty trumped up, we’ve found. Dried beans have gotten a bad wrap and we’re here to fight that wrap.
The standard for dried bean prep is to soak them overnight, right? Seems daunting, but it’s not. All it really means is that it’s ideal to soak the beans for, say, 6-8 hours before your boil them. So you don’t necessarily need to figure out what you’re going to eat the next day before going to bed every night. You can carve those hours out of the middle of the day if need be. Or set them out in the morning before you head out to work, just in case you think you might want to make them when you get home. If you end up not wanting them, cover and continue to soak for a day or two in the fridge until you do.
What’s more, we’ve found that we can soak your basic kidney beans or black beans or navy beans for 3-4 hours and have them pretty much ready to boil as long as you’re alright with them breaking up a bit more, which is fine if you’re doing something like refried beans.
Regardless, once they’re soaked, you simply change out the water and boil the beans, starting high and lowering heat once you reach a boil, watching the pot to make sure you don’t boil over. How long you need after that depends on how much they’ve been soaked and—I’m told—your elevation, but we find that they’re pretty good to go after an hour or so of boiling, sometimes less, sometimes more. Then cook them as you would any canned bean and be ready for A) a much richer taste, and B) a TON less sodium (even less than the ‘low sodium’ canned varieties).
A popular outlet for dried beans in our house is refried kidney beans, seen below. You can see my text to our friend Jacob to the side there, running him through—roughly—how to make them. And I think I meant ‘cast iron pan’ not ‘desperate pan’. We have no desperate pans—all of our kitchenware is very emotionally healthy.
But, basically, after boiling the beans until soft, you pan fry a sliced brown or yellow onion or shallot with olive oil and (usually) 5 or 6 cloves of garlic on medium-high heat until it’s all caramelized. You might want to cook the onions five or so minutes before throwing in the garlic to avoid over-browning that. Then add the beans and vegetable broth if you have it; water if you don’t. We use homemade broth, which is much lower in sodium than store-bought, so just be careful how much broth you add if it’s packaged. Cook, stir, and smash the beans with a fork as the liquid is absorbed and cooks off, adding more and repeating until the beans are consistently soft and refried, lowering heat gradually as you go to avoid burning them. We don’t usually have a need to add any sweeteners—I think that was offsetting a slight smokey burn we gave the beans that night.
So give it a go, everybody. I’m betting you’ll never buy canned beans again.