Want to know exactly how to soften beans after cooking, even as a beginner in the kitchen?
Here’s a full rundown on everything you need to know if you have had a cooking nightmare and need a genius way to soften beans during or after the dish is ready to serve.
Getting to the end of the recipe only to take a taste of your dish and realize that it hasn’t quite lived up to expectations is disheartening at best and will leave you frustrated and hangry at worse.
Luckily we have some easy kitchen hacks you can do as a student or someone still learning the ropes in the kitchen to hopefully make your beans, pulses, and legumes more palatable, even when your dish is cooked.
Using Canned vs Dry Beans
The easiest way to avoid having undercooked beans in your dish is to use the canned alternative.
These can be more expensive than the dry alternative but will be softened before purchase so they are very unlikely to be undercooked when you are ready to serve.
However, dried beans are superior for a number of reasons. For one, dried beans just taste better. Canned beans can be mushy, salty, or even metallic tasting.
Some recipes specifically ask you to use dry beans over the canned alternatives.
All the best Mediterranean falafel recipes use dried chickpeas as they fare much better under the deep fat frying cooking methods than soft canned beans.
Plus if your kitchen has limited pantry space then dried beans will take up far less space in your cupboard.
This is great if you are a student in a house share or living in a van or just have a smaller kitchen.
Soaking is essential when it comes to cooking dry beans. If you can, aim to rinse the beans thoroughly then soak them, overnight in 4x the weight of water as the beans.
You will notice that they swell enormously overnight.
Often doubling in size. This is because the beans have rehydrated and this will help you achieve more even cooking from the skin to center and over the batch of beans as a whole.
If you are soaking for 24 hours and still finding your beans hard and crunchy after cooking you may need to check the age of the beans.
We recommend this as the older the beans the more soaking is needed to achieve the tender, soft beans in cooking.
Try and always purchase from a store with a high turnover of products as old beans may just refuse to soften altogether. Less than ideal!
To speed up the cooking process and to ensure your beans are not hard or crunchy at the end of cooking, add some salt to the water when soaking.
This is also known as brining the beans.
If you live in a part of the country which is served hard water you can add bicarbonate of soda to your water when soaking to make the beans softer.
Ingredients such as sugar, calcium (found in milk, cheese, green leafy vegetables, soya, and even fish), and anything acidic can interfere with the beans softening during cooking.
Keep this in mind when you are pondering why your brans are perhaps not fully cooked in one dish but seem to be cooking just fine in another.
This is because calcium and sugar stop the process of cell breakdown. Meaning the shape of the beans will hold making it harder to cook them thoroughly.
If you live in an area of hard water your water will naturally hold calcium so you may need to invest in a water filter or perhaps switch up your cooking methods to allow the beans to soften.
Acidic ingredients on the other hand will impact the starch of the beans.
This affects the beans’ ability to swell and hydrate which is exactly what you need for soft, tender, perfectly cooked beans.
This means when you add acidic ingredients (for example wine, tomato passata, citrus juice or apple cider, or white wine vinegar) you need to add them after the beans have swollen and are starting to tenderize.
Lots of chefs and home cooks argue that you don’t even need to soak your bean at all. Instead, claiming that some beans can achieve the same result with just heat.
This is true for the case of how to soften black beans and other smaller beans with thin skins.
This also works for lentils and black-eyed peas. You may have to (and it is recommended) that you cook the beans longer than you would otherwise.
The reason many are so passionate about anti-soaking methods is that cooking straight from the dry beans will hold a better flavor and yield more flavor from the sauce.
Creating a better, more well-rounded dish overall.
However, this is not possible with some beans such as chickpeas, pinto beans, etc.
Even with prior soaking these beans often need extra care when it comes to cooking, to ensure they finish soft and palatable.
Beans should be tender and firm. Undercooked and they will be hard and crunchy and play havoc on your digestion.
Overcooked and they will be mushy and lack flavor. However, there is not a one size fits all approach to cooking beans. Depending on other factors such as:
- Length of soaking
- Soaking methods
- Cooking methods
Most beans will be ready to eat after 45 minutes to two hours of cooking time.
It is always best to refer to the instruction on the packet for the type of bean you are using or to periodically taste the beans to ensure they are soft.
We also recommend that you check a few beans before serving up. Especially in the case of older beans they may not all cook evenly. To check is best.
Especially when it comes to serving up a bean chili to your dinner party guests.
Use an instant pot, slow cooker, or another pressure cooker to cook your beans over a longer period of time. This can ensure they have a maximum chance to soften during cooking.
Note: Using a slow cooker can also promote more even cooking.
You can even add your dish to a pressure cooker after you have finished your dish and notice the beans are not as soft as you would have liked.
This can allow the beans some much-needed extra cooking time to soften right to their core without overcooking the rest of your ingredients.
This is a great trick to use to avoid having to trade-off with overcooked meat and vegetables with edible beans and corns.
A pressure cooker is also a great kitchen gadget to have if you are cooking for a family of people who tend to eat at different times in the evening.
As well as people who like to go back for seconds as the pressure cooker will keep your food warm and always ready to serve at the perfect temperature.
This summarises what you should be aware of before you start cooking your favorite bean recipe. So you know exactly how to soften beans after cooking to serve up the best dish to your friends and family.
Beans are incredibly versatile and what’s more, is that they are super cheap and easy to get hold of.
They are certainly a staple worth incorporating into your weekly meal plan for taste as well as health benefits.
It can be frustrating when you realize the prep work, lengthy cooking times, and common problems that occur when cooking with beans.
It's a delicate job but once you master the art of avoiding undercooked, hard beans you will be converted to a bean lover.
These tips will help you know the tips and tricks on how to soften beans in chili, stew, or even homemade baked beans or hummus.
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