how to host brunch and still sleep in OR the simple beginners guide to cooking with dried beans

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Since I’ve been getting into eating Slow Carb, there has definitely been a lot more beans on the menu.

While I am loving exploring the different members of the legume family, I have been tending to stick to the convenience of canned beans. At times I’ve felt a little guilty. Not because I find canned beans to be inferior, it’s more because I know they use a lot more packaging. And they aren’t as economical as cooking beans from scratch.

So today I thought I’d share one of my favourite dried bean recipes.

It’s super simple. Just pop everything in a pot, cover and cook overnight. While you sleep, the house gets filled with the most amazing smell and your little dried beans are transformed into a thing of beauty.

Perfect for a long leisurely Sunday brunch with friends when you want to maximise your sleep in and still be a wonderful host.

the beginners guide to cooking with dried beans

common varieties of dried beans
Haricot (navy) beans are the most common variety used for baked beans. If you can’t find them, cannellini beans, northern or black-eye beans make a good substitute. If a recipe calls for ‘white’ beans, any of these varieties will be great.

Soya beans have the highest protein content of all dried beans and apparently are the easiest to digest.

I recently learned that butter beans are the same as lima beans. One of my students thought I was playing tricks on her because she hates lima beans but didn’t mind one of the butter bean dishes we covered in class.

Broad beans, aka fava beans or shell beans, are available dried but I find the dried version no where near as good as fresh.

Borlotti beans (cranberry beans) win the prize for the most beautiful bean. Slightly larger than haricot or cannellini beans, you could use them in the same place. I always get disappointed when they lose their gorgeous marbled surface. Which is probably why I don’t use them very often.

how to choose the best dried beans

Dried beans will keep for years, but they tend to taste the best and require the least amount of cooking if they’re used in their first year. So even for dried beans it would appear that fresh is best.

It can be difficult to tell the age of your dried beans just by looking at them. So best to buy from a supplier you trust. Preferably someone who does a roaring trade in beans so the turnover is high.

to soak or not to soak
One of the painful things about cooking dried beans is feeling like you need to be organised to soak the beans overnight before you begin to cook.

Soaking has some benefits. It reduces the cooking time and can reduce the incidence of beans splitting. If you throw away the soaking liquid, there are some people who find this helps minimise the whole gas thing (see below).

But soaking isn’t critical.

Apparently in Mexico, where beans are a big part of the diet, they usually don’t bother to soak their beans.

to salt or not to salt

Again a little bean controversy here. Some cooks claim that salt in the cooking water hinders the softening process. Where as others feel that the beans don’t taste as properly seasoned unless the salt is in from the beginning.

I like the third approach of waiting until about half way through cooking and salting then. A bit of salt fence-sitting, as it were.

a word about the gas
The oligosaccharides (complex carbohydrates) that are responsible for beans bad reputation for wind aren’t readily digestible in our stomachs. So when they get to our intestine, bacteria have a feast and you know what that leads to.

The problem compounds are also found in vegetables, and our bodies can get better at digesting them the more we eat.

Soaking is meant to help reduce the effects. Or you can use additives that are designed to reduce flatulence, if you like.

There are people who are allergic to beans. So if they do give you lots of problems it’s probably best to consult your physician.

Undercooked beans are asking for problems.

I recently served some beans that we’re more on the al dente side, with not-so-sweet-smelling after effects. I then cooked the leftovers until almost mushy and risked another bean-meal. Happily the extra cooking helped solve the problem.

how to convert recipes from canned to dried

Standard can of beans (400g /14oz pack weight) = 240g (8.5oz) drained beans
240g (8.5oz) drained beans = 100g (3.5oz) dried beans

So if a recipe calls for a can of beans, you could use 240g (8.5oz) cooked beans or weigh 100g (3.5oz) dried beans and cook them.

Or for 100g dried beans, you could use 1 can drained beans – just be careful to adjust any liquid in the recipe.

what to do if your beans take forever to cook
The ability of beans to soften is linked to the pH (acidity) of your cooking water.

If your tap water is naturally more acidic, it can be difficult to get beans to soften. If you struggle with this, buying deionionised (neutral pH) water to use for cooking will help.

Adding bicarb soda makes the water alkaline and guarantees bean softening. But it also destroys some nutrients so isn’t ideal.

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update: to cook beans in a slow cooker…

Reduce the amount of water added to 1 cup and cook on HIGH for approximately 8 hours.

video version of the recipe


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8hour baked beans recipe
[5 ingredients]
serves 6

400g (14oz) dried cannellini, haricot or northern beans
2 onions, peeled & chopped
2 cans tomatoes (400g / 14oz, each)
3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1 ham hock

1. Preheat oven to 120C (250F) fan forced. Or 140C (280F) for a regular oven.

2. Place beans, onion, tomato, Worcestershire sauce and ham hock in a large oven proof dish, preferably with a lid. Add 2 1/2 cups water and 2 tablespoons brown sugar if you prefer your beans a little sweet. Cover tightly with foil and the lid.

3. Bake beans for 8 hours, or until beans are super tender and the ham is falling off the bone. If it looks a little dry, add some more water. If it looks too soupy, increase the oven temperature and cook uncovered until the sauce has reduced to your liking. Season well.


  • This sounds so yummy – do you know if it’s possible to do this in the slow cooker? Our cats have a weird habbit of hiding under the oven so I don’t like to leave it on unsupervised!

    Do the beans need to be at a certain temperature – ie should they be on high or can I leave them on low?

  • wow claire
    I knew I felt a bit funny about red kidney beans for a reason. thanks for the tip!

    I’m afraid I don’t have a slow cooker so I’m only guessing here. But I think they’d work really well.

    I’d probably try it on the high setting because the beans aren’t as sensitive as meat and won’t go tough if you cook them too much. But they will be a problem if they aren’t cooked enough.

    Let me know how you get on if you try it!

  • These beans sound awesome!

    Jade asked the same question that I was going to, so I would love to know how it goes.

  • I have recently become a huge fan of dried beans! Fortunately, my husband loves them, too. I recently made a slow cooker Red Beans and Rice that my husband said was almost the best thing I have ever made! (He claims the best is my baklava.)

    This is a great post with lots of useful information! I especially appreciated the info about converting recipes from canned to dried. Thank you!

  • I’ve been doing a whole lot more beans lately, too, and I love them. I keep a couple of cans handy, just in case, but usually cook them in the pressure cooker (I think mine was about 30 USD, soooo worth it). I make about 4 cups of dry beans at a time, about 2 pounds or almost a kilo. Then divvy them into containers, one to eat, one to refrigerate, and one to freeze for the next time I want that kind of bean. The pressure cooker reduces the amount of energy needed to cook the beans. I do quick soak (cover with lots of water, bring to boil, turn off heat and soak for 1 hour), then cook under pressure for 8-10 minutes.

    I have read the thing about acid keeping the beans tough, so I’m curious about your recipe adding the tomato at the beginning. I’ve had very bad results once or twice doing that, and have since abandoned it, adding them instead at the end. But maybe it was old beans? If it’s important that the tomatoes get a long simmer, I just do that in a separate pot, then add when the beans are cooked through.

    As it is, I cannot wait to make this recipe. I love baked beans.

  • @Another Claire: I have heard about the problem with kidney beans, so I have read up on it quite a bit lately. It seems that the problem with slow cookers is that some of them cook at too low a temperature to take care of the toxin. So yours may cook at a high enough temperature to not cause a problem.

    If you’re concerned, it seems that the easy solution is to soak the kidney beans, and then bring them to a full boil. Boil them for 10 minutes. That is all that it takes to “deactivate” the toxin. Then you can put them in your slow cooker without worries.

  • @Jade–I make beans of all varieties in my slowcooker all the time. I find that cooking on high I can cook them in 2-4 hrs. For overnight or all-day (5 or more hours) I would recommend cooking on low and making sure that you have enough liquid. They will soak up the liquid pretty quickly (especially if they haven’t been pre-soaked) and there is a possibility they will burn. If they aren’t done, you can always turn them up to high for an hour or so to finish things off.

    Another option is to cook them on high for an hour or two before you leave/go to bed and then turn them down. I’ve had disasters when I don’t remember to turn them down, so I usually avoid this option :-)

  • A tip: here in Brazil we eat bean almost every meal, to reduce the flatulence i soak the bean for 6-8 hours and change the water 2-3 times, this help to reduce the gas.

  • I have been experimenting with beans lately – largely with a Tex Mex flavour.

    I have been using epazote in my beans, which is available as a dried herb. The epazote apparently helps with digestion, as well as imparting flavour to the beans.

    I had also read that bicarb will aid digestion, but wasn’t convinced on this front…

  • Autumn is on the way here in Sydney which means cooking Stephanie Alexander’s baked beans in my home. Delicious! However these look as good, certainly meatier, and too easy. I love the idea that they cook overnight. And thanks Jules for the fan forced/convection times, always confuses me and makes a huge difference in my smeg oven (it runs hot).

    We have been doing the slow carb thing for a while and would eat beans/lentils/chickpeas once or twice a week. Canned and dried. No gas issues. Soaking dried beans is no drama, just grab a mugful into a bowl and soak on the way to bed. Drain in the morning and cook when you’re ready.

  • I tried this recipe last night with haricot beans and vegetarian version. Tastes good, although the tomatoes got a bit burnt. Should have mixed them better, I think.

    soaking is done to get rid of lectins, isn’t it? Maybe the long cooking time inactivates them too, who knows.

  • I love beans – been cooking “cheat’s cassoulet” a fair amount recently. Yum! On another note I had a look this morning at the Grandmother’s Cookbook you wrote about the other day (I think you recommended it to a very close friend of mine for her blog) and it’s gorgeous – the stories and love that fly out from the pages.. wow. Great find!

  • Lesley
    They’d be great as leftovers in the freezer – just freeze in smaller portions because they’ll take quite a while to defrost.

    Gotta love a cassoulet in any form!.. glad you liked My Grandmothers Kitchen – it is gorgeous… small world too ;)

  • This is a great post, I also use canned varieties but due to similar convictions have been thinking I should buy them dried.

  • I made this recipe in the crock pot/slow cooker and it turned out amazing! The only thing I changed was the beans since all I could find were navy. My crock pot has a high and a low setting, so I used Rebecca’s suggestion and put the beans on high for the first two hours then put them on low for another five hours. I also put my pork hock in completely frozen which didn’t seem to hurt anything one bit (the pork meat was like butter it was so tender and delicious). These were the best beans I’ve ever had and now I’m going to have some for breakfast! Thanks!

  • I made this recipe using my crock pot. It worked, but the beans still needed to go in the oven to bake off some of the liquids. Baking in the oven looks like the way to go. Try this recipe! We have enough for 12 half cup servings. We are freezing the leftovers for easy lunches/sides. So easy and wholesome!

    Twitter: @The236

  • Michelle
    Yes if cooking in a crock pot / slow cooker – either reduce down at the end or alternatively halve the amount of water in the beginning.
    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Hi Jules! I love your website. It has been my go-to resource since my work has become crazy – so easy to come home and cook something yum and simple.
    Right now I have these beans in the oven, can’t wait for breakky tomorrow! I just found your other beans recipe – out of curiousity, do the other ingredients add much to the dish? Or is this simple version pretty much as good?

  • Glad you’re enjoying Emily!
    This simple version is the only one I cook now. The old version with all the extra ingredients is OK but you don’t get a huge flavour difference for the extra work!

  • This turned out perfectly, even with a cooking time of 12 hours instead of 8. What a fantastic recipe, that I will surely use again and again.

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