Brine your beans

A couple years ago, I switched from canned beans to dried beans.

Advantages of dried over canned:

  • Cheaper — plain a simple.
  • Avoids BPA exposure from canned beans.
  • Avoids excess sodium in canned beans.
  • Less packaging waste.  I buy most of my beans from the bulk bins, reusing plastic bags.  Even if you buy prepackaged dry beans, it involves much less packaging per amount of beans.
  • Dry beans require less energy to transport because they lack the liquid weight.

While I was happy enough with my bean-cooking method (quick soak or an overnight soak, drain and rinse, boil for about an hour), we recently discovered a new method that yields delicious, lightly salted cooked beans, reminiscent of the canned variety in a good way.

We happened across the idea of brining beans while flipping through an old edition of America’s Test Kitchen.  Basically, it’s a modified version of the quick soak, with salt added to the cooking water.

I initially reacted with skepticism, since the number one rule of cooking dried beans is “don’t add salt until the beans are fully cooked — it will make the beans tough and increase the cooking time.”  However, something about this method totally works.

How to brine beans

  1. Put desired quantity of dried beans in a pan.
  2. Add water to cover the beans, plus 1/2 to 1 inch on top — keep track of how much water you add.
  3. For every quart of water, add 2 generous teaspoons of salt.
  4. Cover and bring to a boil.
  5. Boil 3-5 minutes, then remove from heat.
  6. Let stand at least one hour (I’ve let mine stand for up to 8 hours — time over one hour neither helps nor hurts).
  7. Drain and rinse beans.
  8. Return to pot and cover with fresh water.
  9. Bring to a boil and cook 40 minutes to an hour, or until beans reach desired tenderness.
  10. Alternate cooking method: place in crock pot with enough water to cover.  Turn to low, and cook for 8-10 hours.

I’ve used this method successfully with black beans, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans thus far.  It should work for almost any kind of dried bean.

For ultimate convenience, follow the brining steps in the evening, letting the beans soak overnight, rinse them in the morning, and place in a crock pot to cook while you’re gone during the day.  You’ll return home to fabulous beans just waiting to be incorporated in your dinner — almost as convenient as the canned variety!

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9 Responses to Brine your beans

  1. I do dried beans too. So much cheaper. I just throw mine in the crockpot.

  2. EcoCatLady says:

    Hmmmm… very interesting. A friend of mine does something similar only she uses baking soda instead of salt. I think it’s supposed to make them less gas-inducing. Have you noticed any difference with the gas thing using this method?

    Someday I’ll have to get organized enough to soak my beans. I generally just toss them into the crock pot overnight.

    • Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      I think the main thing that helps with gas is the soaking (either the quick soak or overnight). My handy-dandy “Bulk Basics” guide (that I picked up for free in the bulk aisle at Whole Foods), says that the boil/quick soak method, “reduces hard-to-digest complex sugars by 80%,” and that the long soak (w/o the boil) reduces those compounds somewhat, but not as much. I’m pretty sure by “hard-to-digest complex sugars” they mean “gas-inducing compounds.”

      In general, I accept some gas as part of relatively normal digestive functioning while eating a healthy, high fiber diet that includes veggies, whole grains, and beans.

  3. EcoCatLady says:

    Woo Hoo! I gave it a try and it worked like a charm – at least it worked in the sense that the beans taste great and are nice and soft. It remains to be seen how they will score on the fart-o-meter!

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  7. stampHappy says:

    Not salting beans to keep them soft is an old “chefs” tale, from waaaaay back when. It has been proven numerous times by (Cooks Illustrated and others) that brining beans softens the bean and shortens the cooking time. Just thought if pass it on 🙂

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