Overview

I’ve said — or written — it so many times, I long ago lost count. But here goes again: The key to quick-but-interesting weeknight cooking is to get in the habit of making building blocks on the weekend when you have time, and then learn to use them in a variety of ways during the week. As a vegetarian, I’m talking about roasting vegetables, steaming grains and, my favorite, simmering a pot of beans.

Now that we’re spending so much time at home, you don’t have to wait until the weekend to do such cooking. But you should still do it, especially since beans have emerged as the shelf-stable, nutritious star players of the pandemic pantry. The Instant Pot may have been one of the best things to happen to dried beans in recent years, but now you don’t have to worry quite so much about how quickly beans can cook under pressure; you can give them the low-and-slow treatment they love.

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I’m perhaps better equipped than most of you to know what to do with those beans once they’re cooked, as I spent years researching a cookbook focused on them. To me, the options seem almost endless, and they go far beyond the chilis, soups and other stews you might already know and love. Once you make the pot of beans as I’m instructing here — and I’m offering three easy methods (stove top, oven and pressure cooker) — you can make at least three of the following dishes later in the week. And if you want to make all of them, just make a pound and a half of beans, or even 2 pounds. You’ll be happy to have leftovers, which freeze beautifully.

The accompanying recipes assume that you used good old pinto beans for this pot, but the instructions are the same for whatever bean variety you choose, and you can substitute whatever you’d like.

Pinto Bean Tortilla Salad
Bean and Poblano Tacos With Quick-Pickled Onions
Garlicky Beans and Broccoli Rabe Over Toast
Peruvian Beans and Rice (Tacu Tacu)
Harissa-Roasted Carrot and Bean Dip

Simply Perfect Pot of Beans

The timing will vary widely and depends on the variety of beans and their age. Note that these instructions do not call for soaking the beans, as it is not required, and the flavor is best if you don’t soak. However, if you want to soak because you’re not sure how old your beans are and want to cut down slightly on the cooking time and reduce flatulence, soak them overnight (or 4 to 12 hours) at room temperature in a salt brine to help soften the beans’ skins: Use 1 tablespoon kosher salt and enough water to cover by 3 inches, then drain. If you soak in a brine, reduce the salt in the cooking water to 1 teaspoon. Note that the optional kombu has been found to be as effective as soaking in terms of helping soften the beans’ skins and can also reduce flatulence.

Storage Notes: The beans can be refrigerated, in their cooking liquid, for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 6 months.


Ingredients

1 pound dried beans, picked over and rinsed

Water

1/2 yellow or white onion, peeled

3 garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

One (5-inch) strip kombu (dried seaweed, optional)

1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste


Steps

Step 1

STOVE TOP: In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot set over medium-high heat, combine the beans with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, kombu and salt.

Step 2

Bring the water to a boil. Boil the beans for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to low so the liquid is barely bubbling, cover, and simmer until the beans are very tender, 60 to 90 minutes or longer. (Periodically check and add more hot water if needed to keep the beans submerged.) Test at least five beans from different parts of the pot to make sure they are tender. Remove and discard the bay leaves, onion (if desired) and, if it hasn’t disintegrated, kombu. Taste and add more salt, if needed.

OVEN: Using the same timing as on the stove top, after boiling the beans for 10 minutes, cover, transfer them to a 300-degree oven and bake until the beans are very tender. (If you have a bean pot, which is taller and narrower than a Dutch oven, use it: The bean liquid will be particularly rich.)

INSTANT POT OR OTHER PRESSURE COOKER: Increase the water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Cook at high pressure for 25 minutes, then use the natural-pressure-release function. If the beans are undercooked, either bring the machine back to pressure and cook for an additional 5 minutes, then manually release the pressure to check again, or continue to cook the beans uncovered, on the saute function if using an Instant Pot. When the beans are tender, cook them uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes to reduce and concentrate the broth.

Adapted from “Cool Beans” by Joe Yonan (Ten Speed Press, 2020).

Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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More from Voraciously:

Beans are good for the planet, for you and for your dinner table. Here’s how to cook them right.

5 recipes that prove beans are the MVP of the pantry

This lentil soup is so good one nurse has eaten it for lunch every workday for 17 years

Nutrition

Calories: 134; Total Fat: 1 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 386 mg; Carbohydrates: 24 g; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugars: 1 g; Protein: 8 g.