How to Cook Dried Beans, Lentils, and Peas

It’s easy to get enough pro­tein from a plant-based diet, even if you don’t eat legumes (beans, lentils, and peas). In fact, the Pythagore­ans of ancient Greece thrived on a pure­ly plant-based diet, even though they refused for philo­soph­i­cal rea­sons to eat beans. Nev­er­the­less, beans are cheap, tasty, and nutri­tious and play an impor­tant part in many tra­di­tion­al cuisines. The only prob­lem is that dried beans can be hard to cook. I’ve tried sev­er­al dif­fer­ent meth­ods and have had good luck with all of them.

If you want to use dried beans instead of canned beans, you’re going to have to think ahead and allow time for the beans to soak and cook. I usu­al­ly soak them overnight and then cook them the fol­low­ing day. I often cook a huge pot of beans and then use the cooked beans in var­i­ous recipes over the next few days. For exam­ple, I mash some of the beans with a lit­tle bit of chili pow­der and salt and use them as sand­wich fill­ing. Or I can add chick peas or oth­er beans to a sal­ad.

If you want to cook chick peas, use soft water, such as rain­wa­ter. If you use hard water, the chick peas will nev­er soft­en! We have real­ly hard water, so I use water from a reverse osmo­sis fil­ter when I cook chick peas. I can use reg­u­lar tap water for oth­er kinds of beans.

The first step in cook­ing dried beans is to sort through them to make sure that no peb­bles are hid­ing among the beans. I sim­ply pour them into my hand a few at a time and then toss them into a bowl. For small beans like lentils, I scat­ter them a hand­ful at a time onto a white plate and pick through them before toss­ing them into the bowl. You can cook lentils and peas right away. I soak larg­er beans overnight before cook­ing them.

I use any of sev­er­al meth­ods to cook beans. The tra­di­tion­al method used by the Native Amer­i­cans of New Eng­land was to put the beans and water and maybe some maple syrup in a crock­ery pot and leave it by the fire. The Puri­tans of New Eng­land adopt­ed a sim­i­lar prac­tice because they strict­ly observed the Sab­bath, which meant that they couldn’t work on Sun­days. They real­ized that they could have a hot, cooked meal on Sun­days if they left a pot of beans and a crock­ery of coarse bread dough in a hot brick oven on Sat­ur­day night. The fact that near­ly every­one ate beans on Sun­days is why Boston is called Bean Town.

With the rise of the sug­ar plan­ta­tions in the Caribbean, and the result­ing Tri­an­gle Trade involv­ing Boston, Bosto­ni­ans start­ed using molasses and brown sug­ar to sweet­en their Boston baked beans and their Boston brown bread. This struck me as deeply hyp­o­crit­i­cal. It meant that peo­ple turned a blind eye to human traf­fick­ing and slav­ery but frowned on free peo­ple doing house­hold chores on Sun­days. As Hait­ian-Amer­i­can author Solar Cook­ers Inter­na­tion­al.

In win­ter and dur­ing cloudy weath­er, I use a pres­sure cook­er to cook beans. My Presto® pres­sure cook­er is about 20 years old. Two years ago, I bought it some new gas­kets and a new han­dle for the lid. Pres­sure cook­ers are great! They save time and ener­gy. Here’s a chart that gives the pres­sure cook­er cook­ing times for var­i­ous kinds of beans. Pres­sure cook­ers are par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for peo­ple who live at high ele­va­tions, such as in the Rocky Moun­tains. That’s because water boils at a low­er tem­per­a­ture if the air pres­sure is low.

Pho­to by WhyKen­Fo­tos

4 thoughts on “How to Cook Dried Beans, Lentils, and Peas”

  1. I live in a hard water area and have nev­er had any prob­lems with cook­ing chick­peas using water straight out of the tap.

  2. It may depend on how hard your water is, and pos­si­bly on what vari­ety of chick­peas you are cook­ing. Where I live now, my chick­peas wouldn’t get soft no mat­ter how long I cooked them. Cook­ing them in water from the reverse osmo­sis fil­ter solved the prob­lem.

  3. Try adding a pinch or two of bak­ing soda to the soak­ing water. Hard water is too acidic to pen­e­trate the skin, bak­ing soda neu­tral­izes it a bit. If you have soft water and don’t want the skins to just fall off when you are cook­ing them, add some vine­gar.

  4. I’ve heard of peo­ple adding either bak­ing soda or vine­gar to beans, and it makes sense that it could affect the out­come because it would affect the pH of the water.

    Bak­ing soda is used as a buffer­ing agent to keep pH from drop­ping too low. Con­verse­ly, vine­gar con­tains acetic acid, which is used as a buffer­ing agent to keep pH from ris­ing too high.

    Hard water con­tains dis­solved ions of cal­ci­um and mag­ne­sium, which are alka­line earth met­als (group 2 in the peri­od­ic table). These dis­solved min­er­als tend to give hard water an alka­line pH. Water also con­tains dis­solved car­bon diox­ide. Some of the car­bon diox­ide dis­so­ci­ates to form a weak acid called car­bon­ic acid that can reduce the alka­lin­i­ty of hard water. Years ago when we had an aquar­i­um, we noticed that our slight­ly acidic tap water would become strong­ly alka­line if we put plants in the water and turned the light on. The plants turned car­bon diox­ide to oxy­gen (you could see the bub­bles ris­ing from the plant), thus tak­ing the car­bon­ic acid out of solu­tion. If you boil water for longer than about 15 min­utes, you’ll dri­ve the car­bon diox­ide out of solu­tion, which will make the pH go up if your water is hard. Also, the loss of water from the solu­tion as the water boils away would con­cen­trate the cal­ci­um and mag­ne­sium, mak­ing the hard­ness and pH go up even fur­ther!

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