How To Cook Dried Beans In A Slow Cooker:
Even if you didn’t cook at home much before, I’m betting that recent global events have you spending more time than ever in your kitchen:
- Restaurants are closed except for takeout and/or delivery.
- Store shelves are often out of half of what you want.
- And if your area is like ours, the frozen-food section is almost completely cleared out each time you venture forth to buy groceries, or try to place an online order.
- Moreover, the hot- and cold-bar options that used to be so easy are also shut down for the duration, at least at supermarkets in our area.
Besides toilet paper and frozen foods (not to mention the entire meat section), canned beans have been all but impossible to come by in our area. But if you’re a busy parent who’s trying to work while homeschooling your kids, you really don’t have time to monitor a pot of dried beans while it simmers on the stove. Not to mention that your family won’t like how they taste – or at least that’s what you fear.
Well, fear not. I’m about to share with you the secret for the EASIEST way to cook dried beans. Not only does it take less than 10 minutes of active attention on your part, but the results are tasty on their own. Even better, they’re also versatile enough to use in a ton of recipes that call for canned beans. Empty-shelf problem solved!
The EASIEST Way To Cook Dried Beans (Foolproof and No-Fuss!)
A. Choosing your beans:
OK, realistically, you’re probably not out at the store perusing well-stocked shelves; you’re trying to decide what to do with that sorry bag of dried beans you found in the back of your cupboard. (Or perhaps you’re using some of the French Market Soup Mix you made last year around the holidays – that’s what I’ve been cooking up lately.) First, you have to answer two questions:
1. What KIND of dried beans are they?
Lentils or split peas:
These actually cook super-quick (as far as dried beans go) on their own; if you try this slow cooker recipe with them, you’ll end up with mush. A better bet is to simmer them on the stove for anywhere from 20-40 minutes, depending on which one you’ve got and how old they are; keep an eye on them to check doneness and make sure they don’t run out of liquid.
Kidney beans are a special case – more on the particulars below. If you follow these directions exactly, particularly Step #5, you should be fine.
Black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, etc:
These are all perfect for this method. Or, even better yet, use a mixture of different kinds of dried beans, like the mixture I make in bulk for my French Market Soup mix.
2. How OLD are they?
Like most things, the fresher your dried beans are, the easier they’ll cook. You may have a “best by” date on on the bag. You may remember when you bought them. Or not.
If your beans are of unknown age, that doesn’t mean you CAN’T cook them; they just may take longer to cook than they otherwise might. Generally, dried beans cook best when they’re up to a year old, but up to two years old is still doable. If you know your beans are older than that (or aren’t sure), you may need to skip Step #7. That’s OK.
B. How To Cook Dried Beans In Your Crock-Pot/Slow Cooker
Prep time: 5 minutes / Active time: 5-10 minutes / Cook time: 6-12 hours (varies) / Yield: varies
What you’ll need:
- A smaller (3qt or 4qt) slow cooker
- Nonstick cooking spray
- Dried beans
The basic idea:
If you’re going to use the beans for dinner, start them in the morning, as you’re shifting gears from getting up/breakfast into workday/school day. Or you can cook them overnight, cool them in the morning, and refrigerate or freeze for future use.***
- Spray the inside of your slow cooker with the cooking spray (this will make washing the crockery layer easier later).
- Measure out your beans (so you know how much you have – bags will probably contain 2-3 cups’ worth). Pour into a strainer; sort through, to remove any pebbles or twigs.
- Rinse your beans under running water.
- Place 2+ cups of beans into the slow cooker. For every 1 cup of beans, add 3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Set your slow cooker to HIGH and leave it be.
- Check back on your beans around midday, if you think of it. You should see them boiling in the pot. You can taste one or two for doneness if you want (skip this step if you’re cooking kidney beans); if they’re far from done, leave them bubbling away on HIGH for several more hours.
- If they’re nearly cooked through when you check on them, you can turn the cooking temp down to low. Otherwise, leave on high.
- Save the cooking liquid. Serve the cooked beans plain, or over rice, or use in recipes.
But what do I do with the cooking liquid?
- If you refrigerate leftover cooked beans, they will keep better in their cooking liquid. Drain the beans in a strainer as you use them, unless your recipe calls for the liquid as well.
- If you freeze leftovers, they will keep MUCH better in their cooking liquid, which will help to prevent them from getting too mushy.
- Some recipes will call for the cooking liquid, too.
- Or you can freeze it in small containers and use it as a delicious vegan broth/base/stock for making soup, cooking grains, etc.
What’s the big deal with kidney beans?
Did you know that uncooked red kidney beans contain a toxic substance that can give you a horrendous case of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if not properly cooked?
In order to avoid Red Kidney Bean Poisoning, most sources will tell you to boil the beans for 10 minutes before putting them on the stove to simmer, or before adding them to your slow cooker to cook on low. By starting this recipe on HIGH for several hours, you save the extra time needed for this step, while ensuring the beans reach a boiling temperature – i.e., a temperature high enough to kill the toxin. You also increase your chances that your beans will be cooked fully by dinnertime, even if they’ve been sitting around your cupboard for longer-than-ideal.
You still need to make sure the beans are cooked through, though. Their skins will split, and they should mash easily with a fork when they’re fully cooked.
C. Mix it up:
*Instead of WATER, you can use stock or broth, as long as it doesn’t contain tomato, vinegar, etc. Acidic liquids will keep the beans from softening during the cooking process, so they will never taste “done.” If your tap water is naturally acidic, you can add some baking soda at the start, to counter the acidity.
**Instead of (or in addition to) SALT, you can add whatever other seasonings you like. I prefer just to use salt because it makes the finished beans more versatile. But you could also add a bay leaf, some onion, some garlic, some cumin, some rosemary and/or thyme, a ham bone or slice of bacon, even some cinnamon. Keep in mind that using stock or broth will also affect the final flavor. That said, the first time I cooked beans this way, my husband SWORE that I must have used chicken stock, or something – ANYTHING – more than just water and salt; that’s how yummy he thought they were!
***Once you’ve cooked your beans, drain the portion you need for your recipe and use them in recipes in place of canned beans, such as in Chilaquiles (Breakfast Nachos) or Kitchen-Sink Soup. Or mix them up with some cooked rice, diced tomato, chopped green onion and/or cilantro, cumin and/or chili powder, and a little shredded cheese. Or use them in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, nachos, or tostadas.
What’s your favorite way to eat dried (or canned) beans? Let us know in the comments!
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