The time has come. You’ve cooked everything in the fridge, anything halfway palatable in the freezer and cupboard, and the only thing standing between you and a pandemic panic trip to the grocery store is that forgotten bag of dried chickpeas. Or maybe coronavirus has decimated your paycheck and you’re trying to stretch those food dollars farther than they’ve ever stretched before. Dried beans and peas are the answer. They’re inexpensive and full of protein and nutrients. And now that we’re sheltering in place, there’s plenty of time to cook them.

closeup of dry tan and purple colored beans

Dried beans 101

One of the reasons that people avoid cooking dried beans is that they don’t provide instant gratification. Instead, you need to plan ahead. The first step is sorting through your beans, peas or lentils to pick out rocks. Yes, rocks. Don’t skip this step because nobody wants to make an emergency dentist trip right now. Well, ever. But especially not now. You can shake your beans into in a colander a small handful at a time, or spread them out on a cookie sheet and look for any non-beans hiding in their midst. Once you’ve sorted out any rocks or withered or discolored beans, rinse those remaining in your colander.

Next comes soaking. This step is somewhat controversial. Proponents say soaking removes sugars from the beans, making them less gassy and decreasing cooking times. Other people say this step is overrated and not so effective. Still, with the pandemic forcing people to spend so much time at home, an overnight soak can’t hurt. The beans are going to swell up, so add two or three times as much water as beans.

When you’re ready to use the beans, drain and rinse. You can feed the bean water to your plants.

Getting started

So, which beans should you cook? That depends on what dishes you want to make or, in these times, which beans you can find. My nearest and least crowded neighborhood store is a big Korean market. So the pandemic has me experimenting with adzuki and mung beans for the first time.

There are hundreds of types of beans and legumes in the world. Here we’ll consider some of the most popular and easy to find. When cooking beans, cover the beans with an extra few inches of water in the pot, to account for absorption and evaporation. You’ll want to bring the beans to a boil, then turn your pot down to simmer. Cooking without a lid results in firmer beans. If you prefer a softer bean, put the lid on slightly ajar to allow some steam to escape.

If you want to flavor your beans as they cook, throw in some onion, garlic, bay leaves, cumin or dried chili peppers. Check your beans often to make sure there’s still water, or you’ll be scraping your pot later.

closeup of black beans

Black beans

Black beans are a mainstay of Central American, South American and Caribbean cuisine, and are tops in tacos and veggie burgers. They go especially well with avocado, dairy or nondairy cheese, jalapeños and tomatoes. You’ll need to cook your presoaked black beans for at least 60 to 90 minutes. If they’re still not soft, simmer for another 30 minutes. Black beans contain about 8 grams of protein per half-cup serving, according to the Bean Institute. They’re also high in folate, manganese, thiamine and iron.

closeup of red kidney beans

Kidney beans

Kidney beans are firmer than black beans. They hold up well in cold bean salads and are a mainstay of chili. They come in dark and light red, the latter being popular in Portugal, Spain and the Caribbean. Mustard, vinegar, pasta, sauerkraut, sweet potato and yogurt all mix well with kidney beans. Allow 90 to 120 minutes for cooking. Like black beans, kidneys contain about 8 grams of protein per half-cup serving. They also contain significant amounts of folate, manganese, thiamine, copper and iron.

a pile of dry garbanzo beans

Garbanzo beans

Also known as chickpeas, this bean is a staple of Middle Eastern cooking. Think falafel and hummus. It’s also used to make chole in Indian cooking. Or toss a handful into a salad for a filling protein boost. Garbanzos taste good with cumin, olive oil, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds and tomatoes. Your soaked chickpeas will take 60-120 minutes to cook. Start checking their consistency after an hour. Garbanzos are particularly high in manganese and folate and contain more iron and copper than other common beans. According to Healthline, they’re a high-carb food that’s good for increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing blood sugar.

a scoop in a container of pinto beans

Pinto beans

Pinto beans are one of the most popular beans in the Americas, and the most widely produced bean in the US. They’re the usual bean for making Mexican refried beans, although black beans also work. Pintos pair well with chiles, cilantro, black olives and onions. Cook them for 90 to 120 minutes. Pinto beans are good sources of folate, manganese, copper and thiamine.

closeup of pale, tan colored lentils


Lentils are the exception to the soak first and cook long rule. These small, high protein legumes cook quickly, so they are very convenient to have on hand for putting meals together in a hurry. Brown lentils are the most popular type. They cook in about 20 minutes and hold their shape well for stews. Yellow and red lentils take as little as five minutes to cook and have a nutty flavor. Tiny beluga lentils are black and resemble caviar. Lentils are one of the least expensive ways to get protein, plus nutrients like folate, phosphorus, manganese and copper.

Don’t be intimidated by the need to sort and soak. Beans are good for you and good for the planet, as they provide a protein source that’s both more humane and environmentally friendlier than eating animals.

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