Dried beans are one of the cheapest sources of protein. One pound of dried beans will yield 5-6 cups of cooked beans, enough for about 10-12 servings. They are great for a crowd or for leftovers. Cooking a small or large amount takes the same amount of time and effort. Even though you need to plan ahead, most of the bean cooking (and soaking) requires little to no attention, so it is also very easy.
I use to think beans were bland, but as long as you season them they will have amazing flavor. It is also worth spending a little more money on higher quality heirloom beans, like Rancho Gordo, which will have more flavor (and still end up costing about the same price as canned beans for the same amount). Beans are a great base to use with any seasonings and spices. Here is a general recipe for cooking beans to get you started. Adding different spices will change the flavor.
Inactive Prep Time: 8 hour or overnight
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: About 90 minutes
Makes: 2½ to 3 cups cooked
1 cup (1/2 lb.) dried cranberry beans (or any kind of beans you prefer)
1 large onion (or 2 medium)
2 stalks celery
1 clove of garlic
1 bay leaf
1 4-inch piece of kombu, optional (a seaweed used in Japanese cooking)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt or kosher salt to taste
Measure out 1 cup of beans and rinse them in water, picking out any stones or foreign objects. Cover the beans with water by about 1 inch and soak then for about 8 hours or overnight.
To cook the beans start by dicing a classic mirepoix — onion, carrot, and celery into small dices. Mince the garlic.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the diced vegetables and minced garlic and cook until the vegetables are translucent. It will take about 5-10 minutes. Stir occasionally. It’s okay if some browning starts to occur on the bottom of the pot. This will add flavor to the dish. In fact I like to cook it until there is a nice golden color. Just don’t let it get black.
Once the vegetables are cooked add in the beans with the soaking liquid and all. Add a bit more water if necessary in order to keep the beans covered by about 1 inch. At this time also add in the bay leaf and the kombu if you are using it.
Bring the beans up to a boil. Just before they reach a boil remove the kombu. Boil the beans for about five minutes, then turn the heat down to simmer the beans so the liquid just bubbles up every now and then.
Cook the beans uncovered at a simmer until tender, about 90 minutes. Time will vary depending on the age of the beans. Older beans generally take longer to cook. Salt the beans towards the end of cooking, just when they start to get tender. Salt them gradually as it will take a bit of time for the salt to soak in.
Serve with a side of rice or barley and some sautéed spinach or other vegetable.