Beans are cheap, healthy, and many varieties are grown in Michigan!  They’re great food, but a lot of people don’t know how to cook with them, or have had bad luck in the past getting them to cook up well. Here are  a few pointers and recipes.

Bean Basics

  • The fresher the bean, the faster it will cook.  Very, very old beans may never get soft.  If you think you can’t cook beans, try starting with fresh beans bought from the co-op; keep them in glass jars at home.
  • For better nutrition, shorter cooking times, and fewer crunchy beans, soak beans in cold water overnight.  Cover the beans with about 3” of water in a glass, plastic, or stainless steel bowl or pot and let stand at least 8 hours.
  • Any “split” bean (split peas, mung daal, split red lentils) and most tiny beans (lentils, black gram daal, adzuki beans) will cook in under an hour without soaking.
  • Beans will foam up when you cook them.  Use a very big pot so they won’t boil over.  You can skim the foam or just ignore it.
  • Add salt, tomatoes, and salty/acidic flavorings toward the end of cooking to avoid toughening the beans’ skins.  Beans seem to benefit from a fairly heavy dose of salt, so if your bean dish doesn’t taste like anything, try adding more salt.
  • Make big batches and store pre-cooked beans in the freezer in recipe-sized portions.  Beans may be pressure canned (only – do not water-bath can!).


Lentil Soup

  • Pour enough oil into a medium saucepan to cover the bottom one lentil deep.
  • Add a chopped onion and 1c. lentils (brown, red, or green).
  • Add 3-4 c. water and a bay leaf; bring to a boil then simmer for 30 mins.  Use more water for soup; use less if serving over rice.
  • The lentils should be mostly done but it’s ok if a couple still have a little crunch.
  • Add 1 tsp. veggie bouillon, or about ½ tsp. salt and herbs to taste.
  • Add 2-3 chopped carrots, greens, and/or a diced potato, if you like.
  • Simmer 15 more minutes until all is cooked.
  • Serve as soup, or over rice, with a vegetable side if you didn’t put the veg into the stew.

Sag Daal (Indian beans and spinach)

  • Cook 1 c. daal (split mung beans, split red lentils, or yellow split peas) in 3c. water and 1 bay leaf until tender. Since you’re using split beans with no hulls, the beans will “puree” themselves as they cook.
  • Saute in oil or ghee 1 small diced onion, 1 tsp. turmeric, ½ tsp. coriander, ½ tsp. cumin, ½ tsp. salt, and a teaspoon each fresh ginger and chopped garlic. Also add ground cayenne pepper to taste.
  • Add the lentils to the toasted spice mixture.
  • Add a bag of fresh or frozen spinach, or a washed and shredded bunch of kale.
  • Cook until greens wilt; serve over rice.


Refried Beans

  • Soak 1 c. of dried pinto or cranberry beans overnight in cold water.
  • Boil the beans with 4-5 cups water and a bay leaf for about an hour or so.  Beans should be very tender. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.
  • Saute a diced onion, two cloves of minced garlic, and a diced fresh chili pepper in oil or lard. (You can substitute dried cayenne pepper in the next step instead of a fresh chili, or leave the chili out for mild beans.)
  • When the onion is soft, add the drained beans and mash with a spatula as you stir.  Add the reserved cooking liquid a tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
  • Add salt and dried spices to taste (cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper).