New Fashioned Bean Pot: Soak, Simmer, Then Flavor

Sunday February 15, 2015

When we think of our favorite recipes, what comes to mind looks pretty similar to a hill of beans and legumes. They are little dried seeds packed with nutrition and flavor, giving a sense of gustatory satisfaction. The slow cooker, invented originally from an existing electric bean pot, is the most efficient way to cook dried beans and legumes, no matter what type you choose–mottled, black, red, or white.  There is minimal evaporation during the cooking, just like in the old potbelly-shaped brown and cream clay bean pot that went in the oven or embers.

Beans have a reputation of being hard to cook.  Well we demystify that and give you simple directions for the best slow cooker beans.  The cooking time definitely depends on what size the bean is, the age of the bean (the older and larger the bean, the more water it needs to rehydrate), and how long it has been pre-soaked.  As one of our testers wrote about the flexible nature of cooking beans: “Cook until tender, anywhere from 4 to 8 hours on high, depending on your crock pot and the phase of the moon. If you’re going to be out of the house, put the crock pot on low, and make sure you’ve got an extra 2 inches of liquid in it.  Cook 8 to 10 hours, bringing it to high whenever you get back to the house.”

The rule of thumb is to have three times the amount of liquid as there are beans, which translates to 2 to 3 inches of liquid above the beans.  You can always use more water, 3 quarts to a pound of beans is not unusual, then drain later.

We also like to add acid ingredients–such as tomatoes, vinegar, lemon juice–towards the end of cooking as well, to avoid toughening.  Always be sure to add the salt near the end of the cooking time or at serving time; if you add it in the beginning, the beans will never get tender.  The mantra is “soak, simmer, then flavor.”

The term “bean” refers to not only regular beans, but legumes and peas, known as pulses, as well.  A legume is technically the edible seed inside a pod.  There are a vast variety from which to choose, each with its own size, appearance, and texture.  Beans can be consumed in both the fresh or dried form.  During summer months you may also come across fresh beans–always called fresh shell beans–especially at your farmer’s market.  Fresh beans will always cook much faster than dried beans and need no soaking. The fully mature beans are never eaten raw, as they are completely indigestible uncooked.  They keep without refrigeration.

Once you embrace the world of beans, you will be amazed at the vast variety available and their wide range of flavors and textures.  And of course their veritable cornucopia of shapes, colors, and sizes!  We give a wide range of recipes so you can experiment with beans. We have plenty to choose from, the old favorites such as pinto beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzos, and black beans, as well as new heirlooms such as cranberry beans, chestnut flavored Christmas limas, and yellow eyes, and the lesser cooked beans such as limas and soybeans. They all have warm earthy tastes, each that little bit different.  It is time to look at beans as a special main dish, rather than an afterthought or what to eat if there is nothing else.

For plain eating, hearty beans fresh from the pot with their earthy aroma still filling the kitchen after hours of cooking, are a soul-satisfying meal eaten like soup with bread and salad.  Our favorite way to eat freshly cooked beans of all types is still a soup bowlful simply drizzled with a fruity olive oil, walnut oil or sesame oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime, a sprinkling of a flavorful flaked sea salt (like Maldon) and fresh ground black pepper with hunks of fresh bread or fresh flour tortillas on the side to sop up all the thick juices in the bottom of the bowl. If melted cheese is your game, top with cubed mozzarella or crumbled fresh goat cheese. Chopped summer tomatoes and avocado with sour cream is another. One of our favorite toppings for a plain cooked bowl of beans is from Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo. Its called Fay’s Relish and it is a type of fresh relish known as a gremolata, an Italian topping for osso bucco. This is so good, you might want to make a batch every week:

Fay’s Relish (Cilantro Gremolata)

1 medium shallot

2 cloves garlic

1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves

Zest of 1 organic lemon or lime

Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon or 1 lime

Pinch of sea salt

Splash of olive oil (2 to 3 tablespoons)

Drop the shallot and garlic through the feed shoot in a food processor. Process until finely chopped. Open and add the cilantro. Pulse to chop. Add the lemon juice and zest, salt, and olive oil. Pulse a few times. You want this coarse, not a puree. You can also chop it all by hand. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Keep your stash of cooked beans up to 3 days in the refrigerator, ready to rinse and use in salads, or freeze in small amounts, to be made into tacos, as a side dish, pureed into hummus, or in slow cooker soups, chili, and stews at a moment’s notice.  Frozen beans in one cup increments can be defrosted quickly in the microwave, or even added frozen to a bubbling pot of soup.

Tips for Cooking Dried Beans in the Slow Cooker

While researching this section of NYM Slow Cooker, Julie and I cooked dozens of pots of beans. We tried pre-soaking and not pre-soaking. We cooked on LOW and on HIGH. We used different sizes and shapes of slow cookers. Here’s what we think are the best practices for slow-cooking beans:

The How-To Overview:

Sort: Arrange dried beans on a sheet pan or clean kitchen towel and sort through them to pick out any shriveled or broken beans, stones or debris.

Rinse: Place in a mesh colander and rinse with cold running water.

Soak: Use either the Regular Overnight Soak or a Quick Soak.

Cook: Place in the slow cooker with at least 2 inches of broth or water. No salt please! Cook times vary with the variety, age, and size of the bean.

1)            DO pre-soak dried beans before cooking in the slow-cooker. (The exceptions are the same as for stove top bean cookery: lentils and split peas.) While it is possible to slow-cook un-soaked beans, we found that cooking times are much more predictable if the beans have been soaked beforehand. Soak the beans in cold water for 6 hours or overnight, or use the quick-soak method: Bring the beans to a boil on the stove in a large pot with plenty of water. Boil 2 minutes, then cover the pot and remove from the heat. Let stand 1 hour. Drain the beans and cook them as indicated in the recipe, or follow our chart below.

2)            Cook beans on HIGH. We found that beans cook more evenly on the HIGH heat setting of a slow cooker.

3)            Use EITHER a medium or large slow cooker. Use EITHER a round or oval-shaped slow cooker. Most small slow cookers don’t have a HIGH setting, so we don’t recommend them for bean cooking. In addition, they are too small for anything over 1/2 cup of dry beans. We found that the shape of a slow cooker doesn’t matter. Round and oval cookers performed equally well.

4)            For general proportions, for 1 cup of soaked beans, use 4 cups of water or broth. For 2 cups of soaked beans, use 6 cups of water or broth. Cooking times will vary somewhat based on the moisture level of the beans and the amount, so be sure to check 30 to 60 minutes or so before the time is up in case you need to add some boiling water.  The ultimate test? Bite into one.

5)            Do not add salt until AFTER the beans are cooked; salt added at the beginning toughens them and they will not absorb water properly during the cooking process. Use a flavorful sea salt, such as Maldon or Himalayan pink salt. In lieu of salt, some cooks add a 2-inch square of kombu seaweed at the beginning of the cook time. Discard after cooking. You won’t need to salt.

6)            You can store your cooked beans in their liquor (flavored cooking water) and serve as a soup, or drain in a colander or scoop out beans with a slotted spoon.  If you find the crock too heavy to lift to drain in the colander, the slotted spoon works perfectly.

Slow Cooker Pot of Beans

Dried beans are the kind of good and good-for-you food that doesn’t get much publicity. They’re not flashy, but they are one of the best bargains in the supermarket, in terms of both money and nutrition. And if you use your slow cooker, they’re a bargain in the effort department as well. Refer to our Slow Cooker Bean Cooking Time Chart depending on what type of bean you choose so as not to overcook, as beans can get mushy (still good to eat.)


Cooker: Large Round or Oval

Machine Setting and Cook Time: High Heat: See Slow Cooker Bean Cooking Time Chart, below

Serves 6 to 8


  • 1-pound (16-ounces) package dried beans
  • 10 cups water
  • Bouquet garni of 2 4 to 5 inch pieces of celery tied together with a sprig or two of thyme, sprig of parsley, a dried bay leaf, a dried red chili, and sprig of espazote, if available, optional but nice
  • Fine sea salt, to taste


Place beans in a colander and rinse under running water; check and pick over for small stones.  Place in a 5-or 6-quart cooker (there must be plenty of room for them to bubble without spilling over) and cover with cold water.  Drain.

Add fresh water and bouquet garni (if desired) to the beans in the crock.  Cover and cook on HIGH (Refer to the Slow Cooker Bean Cooking Time Chart for exact time depending on what type of bean you cook).  The beans will be covered with liquid at all times to cook properly, cooking into a liquid similar in color to whatever bean you are cooking, called bean liquor.

Beans will be tender, hold their shape and not be falling apart.  Leave whole or gently mash a portion of the beans in the pot, which will thicken them nicely.  Serve the beans immediately in soup bowls, topped with a sprinkling of sea salt and grated cheese, if desired, or let stand in the cooker 1 hour, uncovered, then transfer with their liquor to a covered storage container to refrigerate, or drain and use in another recipe.

Single Serving Slow Cooker Beans

Make your lunch early in the morning and eat in the afternoon.  Use a 1 1/2-quart slow cooker with 1/2 cup beans and 3 cups of water, or 1 cup beans and 4 1/2 cups of water.  Cover and cook.  Refer to the Slow Cooker Bean Cooking Time Chart for exact time depending on what type of bean you cook.  The time will be the same for a small amount of beans as for a large pot.

Slow Cooker Bean Cooking Chart Guide

The following instructions are based on one to two cups (1 to 2 cups) of beans or legumes with at least 3 inches of water to cove, but we have found the times run true even with an entire 12- to 16-ounce package of beans.  Beans can also be cooked in broth or vegetable stock, which tastes especially nice if the beans will be eaten as a side dish.  The beans should always be completely covered with liquid throughout the entire cooking time.  Beans are done when tender and most of the cooking liquid has been absorbed, although if you are making a dish to eat with a spoon, like Tuscan beans, they can remain soupy.  Always check your beans towards the end of the cooking time and add more boiling water if they look too dry.  If the beans are to be used in another dish, such as chili, soup, vegetable stew, or a cassoulet, you will cook them al dente rather than totally soft.

The following chart tells approximately how long to cook various kinds of dried beans on HIGH in the slow cooker.  Each cup of dried bean will swell to about 3 cups. These times are meant to be used as guidelines, as variables such as hard or soft water, the mineral composition of the soil where the beans were grown, and older beans will slightly affect cooking times.  Remember that beans and legumes always take slightly longer to cook at higher altitudes.  Hard water will lengthen the cooking time.

For all beans except split peas and the various kinds of lentils, the beans should be presoaked.  Presoaking not only rehydrates and makes for a more even cooking process, it leeches off some of the compounds that make beans hard to digest (note the foamy water that is poured off and fresh water added for the cooking process).

Type of Dried Bean                                       Cook Time on HIGH Setting/Presoaked

Black beans (turtle beans)                                  3 hours

Black-eyed peas                                                    3 1/2 hours

Fava beans                                                            2 1/2 hours

Cannellini beans                                                  3 hours

Flageolets                                                               3 1/2 to 4 hours

Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)                               3 1/2 to 4 hours

Great Northern beans                                          2 1/2 hours

Kidney beans, red                                                  3 hours

Lentils, brown                                                        1 1/2 hours (firm-tender for salads)

Lentils, brown                                                        2  hours (completely tender for soup)

Lentils, green (lentils du Puy)                            2 hours

Lentils, red                                                              1 1/2 hours

Lima beans, large                                                  2 hours

Lima beans, baby or small                                   2 1/2 hours

Navy beans                                                              2 1/2 to 3 hours

Pink beans, small (pinquito)                              3 1/2 hours

Pinto beans                                                              3 hours

Red beans, small                                                   2 1/2 hours

Soybeans                                                                  4 hours

Split peas, green or yellow                                    2 1/2 hours

White beans, small                                                  3 hours

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman. (c) 2005, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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