How To Cook Black Beans

So you want to know how to cook black beans? I’ll tell you. It’s quite easy, really.

Black beans basically need the same trick which most beans/legumes need.

See, most beans/legumes take hours to cook normally (The only exceptions I know of are lentils and mung beans). Easily two or three hours. I find this very frustrating personally, and the other trouble is that back when I did it like this, I often forgot about my beans. The water would boil off and they would burn, or some other such catastrophe would happen.

Preparing (soaking) black beans

Soaking the black beans

Or else I would get frustrated with how long they were taking to cook and just make do with half-cooked beans. Not fun.

There is a simple solution to this, so simple and effective I don’t really understand why more people don’t do it. The magic solution is: baking soda.

(You can also use a pressure cooker, but I don’t like that method. For more information on that, see: Black Beans Pressure Cooker)

For easy, soft, and quick-to-cook black beans, just follow these instructions.

1. Measure out your black beans. 1/2 a cup per person is usually enough for most recipes.

2. Place them in a large bowl and add water. How much water? Enough to cover the black beans quite well; I put in about double the volume or a bit more.

3. Add a teaspoon or so of baking soda (it doesn’t need to be exact, you can add two teaspoons if you are making black beans for ten people but other than that one teaspoon is likely enough). Mix briefly.

4. Leave to soak for approximately 8 hours. It can be for longer, but beware – if it’s for too long, or if the temperature is really hot, the beans could ferment. As a rule of thumb, 24 hours is the maximum for cool weather, and 8 hours should be okay in hot weather. If in doubt, you can leave them to soak in the fridge.

5. Cook them! First, throw away the soaking water. Then, add them to a pot with enough water to cover, and boil. Put on the lid. Don’t add salt yet as this will slow the cooking. Simmer for 10 to 25 minutes.

Note: if you’re making a soup or a stew you might add other vegetables and seasonings at this stage. That’s fine, but bear in mind that as with most beans, black beans take much longer to cook in an acid environment. So avoid adding vinegar, lemon, lime, orange, or tomato to the mix until the black beans are done or almost done.

Tomato, although it doesn’t seem it, is very acidic!

6. At the 10 minute mark, use a fork to take out a black bean or two. Leave it on a board for about a minute to cool (or blow on it vigorously if you just can’t wait). Eat it. See if it is soft enough for your taste.

7. If it isn’t, repeat this process once every 5 minutes until you have reached the perfect level of tenderness.

8. Don’t throw the water away! The cooking water for black beans absorbs a lot of rich flavour and nutrients. You can keep it and use it as the base for a soup, black bean broth, or in any recipe that calls for vegetable stock (so long as you don’t mind the black colour). Or else, you can simply add salt to taste and drink as a soup as-is. It’s surprisingly good!

There you have it. How to cook black beans in eight simple steps.

But wait — what if you’re in a hurry? Well, you can cook the black beans without soaking. Just bear in mind it will take two hours or more, depending. (Depending on what? I hear some say it’s the hardness of the water you use). Add a pinch of baking soda to speed it up a little. It won’t be as good as soaking with baking soda, but it will help a bit. Just remember not to let the water boil off or the beans burn while you’re waiting. Cover it with a lid, and check it periodically to make sure it’s not boiling over. Use a timer to remind you if you need it.

Or you can buy a can of ready cooked black beans. Sure, it’s not a great solution. It will be less flavoursome, less nutrient rich, less environmentally friendly, and more expensive than cooking dry black beans. But you did ask.