Some decades ago, I side gigged as a vocalist. The groups I worked with played mostly jazz and standards, but sometimes we played shows that required … something different, like a song about butter beans. More specifically, a bowl of butterbeans. I wonder if they started out as dried beans?Jump to Recipe
Just A Bowl of (Dried) Beans
A fan favorite, the “butter bean” bit began in operatic style, morphed into a thumping old-time country tune and finished with a relish of operatic abandon. The chorus—a sing-along that people actually sang—went like this: “Just a bowl of butter beans. Pass the cornbread if you please. I don’t want no collard greens … all I want is a bowl of butter beans.”
If you’re from the southern U.S., you’ve surely eaten every single one of those foods. One or more might even be a comfort food. No matter where you’re from, you’ve surely had some kind of dish—or 100 of them—that includes beans. Most beans are classified as legumes, a part of the vegetable family, but they are also considered a good protein source, so you might even see them mixed in with meat categories.
Buying cans of beans—butter or otherwise—is quick and easy, but making a batch from dried beans is super cheap—cents on the dollar—with no preservatives and less waste for a slight investment of time. If you multi-task while prepping and cooking dried beans, it’s a breeze: clean and sort, soak about 8 hours and cook about 90 minutes, depending upon the variety.
When I have a full day away from the house, I soak beans in the morning and cook in the evening. When my day is open, I soak them overnight and cook them in the morning. The cooking part only takes a little baby-sitting, so I can easily manage it while I take care of other things.
Cook and Freeze
I only recently discovered beans freeze well, and it changed my life. Simply drain the liquid and store the beans in airtight containers. You can freeze the liquid in ice cube trays and use in dishes where bean juice is important, like black beans and rice. They will store for 2 or 3 months.
Freezing allows you to cook large batches—I feel so efficient when I cook and freeze beans. I love the convenience of popping a container out of the freezer. I feel good about how it reduces waste: one plastic bag is the entirety of my waste as opposed to however many cans are equivalent to the bean yield of the bag.
When I use an ingredient often, I prefer to buy it in bulk, especially if it has a long shelf life. Beans and rice seems to last forever. Even if you’re a party of one, if you have the space, just do it!
It was a bulk bag of black beans that got me thinking about this dried versus canned bean business. If you eat enough of them, dried beans make great economic sense. And we definitely eat enough of them. Black beans and rice, red beans and rice, chili with beans….
The wide variety of beans alone make them an interesting meal choice. Add in the many ways you can prepare them and their stellar nutritional value, and you’ve got a real winner in beans.
Cook time varies by bean, so please follow the instructions for your particular bean. For example, some beans take 2 hours and others take just an hour. Basically, cook until they are firm—not crunchy and not mushy.
You’ll often want to mash the beans up against the side of the pot to thicken them up for certain recipes, like beans and rice. And sometimes you’ll want to mash them up entirely; for example, for use in dips. In future posts, I’ll share more recipes with beans, but for starters, all you need to do is add some salt and pepper to cooked beans for a simple side dish, or throw them on a bed of rice.
“My roommates and I looked at each other and screamed, “BEANS!” in unison, like we hadn’t eaten in weeks.We were holding hands, jumping up and down and celebrating, while the guy at the register tried to understand how we functioned on a normal basis.”—Grace Helbig
- 4 C dried beans
- 9 C water
- 8 C water keep more at the ready to keep water above the beans
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning optional
- Sort through the dried beans: this means removing any pieces of dirt or broken bean bits from the beans you will cook. Rinse thoroughly and place beans in a large bowl.
- Add 9 cups water and soak overnight (4 to 8 hours). INSTANT POT: you can choose to skip this step if desired.
- Drain and rinse beans.
- Place 8 C water in a large stock pot and add Italian seasoning. Bring water to a boil and add the beans. Lower heat and cook on a low boil, stirring occasionally, about 90 minutes. (Beans should be firm enough to hold shape but soft enough to easily mash.)
- INSTANT POT: follow manufacturer's instructions for type of bean, based on whether you soaked them or not.
- To reserve bean stock, strain into bowl. (Transfer to ice cube trays for easy storage.)
- Place beans in strainer and rinse well.
- Don’t add salt while you cook the beans. It may (or may not) make them tough. It’s okay to infuse the cooking water with other spices and seasonings, such as basil, garlic, or a pepper variety.
- Depending upon bean variety, you may get yields as high as 11 cups. You will want to limit the amount of beans if you use an Instant Pot.
- I have used this cooking method successfully with black beans, pinto beans and Great Northern beans.
- I check my beans every 20 to 30 minutes and remove them when done. Follow the directions provided by the brand for each bean variety to be safe.
- If freezing, place in freezer safe containers and store. If you choose to store beans in freezer bags, be sure to push out as much air as possible.
- To store bean stock, pour into ice cube trays and let freeze. When frozen, store ice cubes in freezer container or bag. Label contents and date. Keeps about 3 months.
- Retain black bean juice for black beans and rice; retain chickpea juice(aquafaba) as an egg substitute or for a vegan whipped cream.