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Cooking Beans

Cook with what you have sounds nice but what should/would you like to have on hand? This is a fun and complex question. I’m going to tackle a small fragment of this question today. I’m going to talk about beans, white beans, and cooking them at home. A quick side note about dry beans. Here in the Portland area we are lucky to have a couple of very local sources of dried beans. Ayers Creek Farm sells their beans at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. The quality, flavor, varieties are unbeatable and worth seeking out. Sungold Farm sells pinto beans that are wonderfully sweat and creamy and are available at both the Portland Farmers Market and the Hillsdale Farmers Market. I have also had very good results with dry beans purchased from grocery stores, both bulk and packaged, so don’t let the possible lack of local beans deter you.


Navy Beans with bay leaves, garlic cloves and chunks of onion ready to cook.


I love to cook beans. The taste is unbeatable; it’s simple to do once you’re in the habit; and if you cook large quantities at once and freeze them it’s as convenient as having canned beans on hand but with better flavor, less waste, less expense, etc. My routine, since I work from home, is to put several pounds of beans in a big bowl covered with water before I go to bed. The next morning I drain them, put them in a big pot with a couple of bay leaves, a chunk of onion and few peeled, whole garlic cloves and simmer them for 35-60 minutes depending on the bean. Small white ones like the navy beans in this picture tend to cook in about 35 minutes if they haven’t been sitting on a shelf for several years.

For those of you who leave the house every day, you could put them to soak in the morning and then cook them while you’re making dinner. Once cooked, I strain them (reserving the liquid) and put them into pint and quart containers, pour the cooking liquid up to cover them (helps preserve them and it’s great liquid to keep if you’re going to make soup later on) and then freeze them. I do this with white, black and pinto beans and chickpeas regularly. Oh and on the perpetual question of when to salt the beans you’re cooking, I have long gone with the recommendation of John Willoughby from a piece in Gourmet years ago where he debunked the theory of not salting until they’re cooked. So, I salt at the beginning with great results but if you have a different method with which you are happy, by all means stick with that.

So what to do with all those “bean popsicles,” as a student of mine once called them? The frozen beans thaw quickly in a pan over high heat with a bit of water. I just thawed a pint for my lunch in about 5 minutes this way.


Navy Beans with tomato, garlic and oregano


Of course if you have the presence of mind to take them out of the freezer a few hours or a day ahead of time, great. They keep well in the fridge for the better part of a week. So, for the above lunch I mashed some garlic with salt, sautéed for a minute, added a can of tomatoes, broke those up a bit, added oregano and cooked over high heat for a about five minutes. I then added the thawed beans and heated those through. Some black pepper and a little olive oil to finish and voila!  This makes a delicious light lunch or side dish mixed with pasta and maybe some sausage a hearty and quick dinner.


Navy Beans with tomatoes, garlic and oregano


You could also toss the beans with some tuna, parsley, capers, finely chopped onion and a vinaigrette with plenty of red-wine vinegar and/or lemon juice. (For another local pitch, I love Oregon Albacore available at local grocery stores and farmers markets.) Or you could mash the beans with some lemon zest, juice, garlic, olive oil and a little rosemary or thyme and have a hearty spread. Or you could make a soup with kale, other veggies, sausage and white beans. The options really are vast.


White Bean and Tuna Salad



I’d love to hear from you on this subject. Do you cook beans? What do you do with them? Have you found it easy? Too much effort? Not satisfactory? Beans too mushy or crunchy?

Happy bean cooking and thanks for reading!

P.S. I’m going to be teaching a 3-part series in January on pantry stocking and cooking quick meals similar to the ones described above in case you’re interested.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nice post! Darnit though. It made me hungry. Forgot to eat lunch today.

    Beans are my go-to food item. I don’t eat much meat and I love the flavors that beans take on.

    Once I got into the habit of remembering to throw beans in a bowl of water the night before I wanted soup, I cooked with them more.

    I love white beans. I especially l like the really small navy beans. I make a minestrone soup often with those and kale and other veg. But I also do a simple white one with lots of good olive oil and some herbs (no tomato). I puree half the batch.

    One tip that I think makes a difference that I came across in Cooks Illustrated was to cook the beans halfway in a separate pot from the veggies so the veggies don’t overcook. Have you heard about that?
    It also seems to make the soup cook way faster. I imagine you miss out on some of the bean liquid flavoring the soup. But I’m not sure I’d notice.

    I love making white bean dip instead of hummos and when I’ve bothered with beans from scratch it’s amazing how different the flavor is. Better, that is.

    November 30, 2010
  2. I love making beans. I recently made a spicy tasty borracho beans with adobo and beer.

    I have a soft spot for classic baked beans, so I often make them for that, no canned baked beans needed, just navy beans.

    I recently made pinto beans and they never softened up: it can be a challenge to get the temp set just right on the stove so that they simmer but not hard boil. But I think perhaps these beans might have been old.

    I’ve been curious about making beans in a slowcooker and if it’s easy and dependable.

    November 30, 2010
  3. Carla Canfield #

    Did anyone see the article in the Oregonian this week about BPA in the lining of canned beans? Another reason to cook them at home.
    We eat beans a few times a week, and have been enjoying the variety and flavor of beans from Viridian Farms at the downtown Farmer’s Market.

    November 30, 2010
  4. emmalina73 #

    I love these bean loving suggestions and am now seriously peckish! I had no idea you could freeze beans in this way, that is exciting news! I’ll have to have a try as we are moving out to our own land at the end of the year and I am always on the look out for foods that we can grow and preserve and use! I’ll keep an eye on your blog for more bean recipes : )

    January 11, 2011
    • glad this was useful. And yes, there will be more. I love cooking dry beans and using them in a host of different ways. And freezing them is so convenient and tasty.

      January 11, 2011
  5. Jill Abraham #

    Just wondering your method of freezing the beans-do you put them in glass or BPA free plastic bags? Also wondering how much liquid to put in.

    Thanks! Love you blog!

    April 26, 2011
  6. Hi Jill, I actually typically freeze them in old Nancy’s (or other) one-quart yogurt containers. I’m not 100% sure if they are BPA free but I reason that since I always wait for the beans to be cold before adding them and they only are in the freezer for a couple of months at most that the risk, if any, is minimal. I may be kidding myself here and if you have more info on this please share! I sometimes use quart glass jars but not very often. As to the amount of liquid, I scoop out the beans with a slotted spoon and fill my containers and then ladle over enough liquid to cover the beans. That way I have plenty for a soup or to thin out spreads or purees.

    April 26, 2011

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