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Cooking with Virginia: How to Cook Dried Beans

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Beans in some way, shape, or fashion are fundamental in many cuisines. Healthy and economical, they are a go-to in my kitchen. I’ll often cook a pound at the beginning of the week and reheat them over the next few days as a warm side dish, toss cold into a salad, or cook further for soup. They’re also a great protein for a healthy breakfast with an egg atop a tortilla. Knowing how to cook beans gives you enormous maneuverability in the kitchen. This handy culinary skill helps with meal prep and gives you the ability to magically produce multiple meals out of a humble bag. 

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Feed the World

Country cooking, the food of the working class and poor, is pretty similar all over the globe. Dried beans are inexpensive and widely available. In the Mountain South, the predominant dish is known as Soup Beans, and in the Deep South, the most common version is plainly referred to as Pinto Beans.

The South of France is famous for cassoulet, a layered casserole of beans and meat. Mexican foodways offer bean dishes of many forms – Frijoles Charros (Cowboy Beans), Moros y Cristianos (Black Beans and Rice), Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans), and more. In the Caribbean, it’s coconut-infused Rice and Peas (often made with red beans) and there are a tremendous number of culinary treatments utilizing dried legumes in Latin America.

Tuscany is the land of “bean eaters” or mangiafagioli. There are a multitude of white bean dishes including Fagioli al Fiasco, or beans cooked in a bottle nestled in the embers of a fire. (In Italian, a fiasco is a flask encased in a straw basket, such as a traditional Chianti bottle.) There’s also the hearty Tuscan soup, Ribollita or Tuscan White Bean Vegetable Stew. Yes, these simple seeds feed the world.

Pinto and Soup Beans

For my Pinto Beans and Kale Stew, I created a mash-up. Not mashed beans — of recipes! I borrowed bits and pieces from a few of my favorite dishes. First, I used pinto beans, often the least expensive of all the varieties on your grocer’s shelf. My grandmother, from the Deep South, would make Pinto Beans with salt pork, also known as side meat. (Side meat is meat taken specifically from the sides of a pig. It may be smoked and cured, in which case it becomes bacon, or salted, in which case it becomes salt pork.) The consistency was somewhere closer to scoopable.

Soup Beans, a part of traditional Appalachian cooking, are also made of pinto beans and often simmered with some form of cured and smoked pork. They are often a bit soupier. Both versions are served with cornbread, raw onion, and often, chowchow, a pickled condiment made of vegetables and/or fruit.  

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My Red Beans and Rice for

Why are Red Beans and Rice Served on Monday?

Second, I borrowed the addition of sausage from the Red Beans and Rice I grew up eating in Louisiana. (I substitute turkey sausage to lighten up, y’all, but you could leave it out all-together, for certain.) My Red Beans and Rice, as seen on, is a true Creole classic. This famous dish was originally served on Mondays, utilizing the ham bone left over from Sunday supper. Very low maintenance, it simmered on the stove all day while the laundry was washed and hung it out to dry. Monday wash day is a thing of the past, but this original “bowl” is still often served as a lunch or dinner special on Monday at many New Orleans restaurants. (If you really want to check out the real deal, follow the escapades of Pableaux Johnson and his Roadshow!)

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Italian Ribollita

My third inspiration comes from central Italy. One of the many regional Italian dishes featuring the dried legume includes Ribollita, a hearty vegetable stew made with olive oil, rustic bread, cannellini, and a slow-cooked battuto of carrots, onions, and celery. It’s also packed with Cavalo Nero, or Lacinato kale. I love all greens, kale included. I nearly always have a bag of pre-chopped and washed kale or collard greens in my refrigerator. I love those bags of pre-washed greens! It’s so handy to grab a handful for a quick sauté or to toss in a bowl of simmering broth for soup — or in this case, beans.

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Why do Beans Cause Gas?

Let’s get this part our of the way.

You may recall the catchy children’s tune: “Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot… ” Yep, it’s true. Their natural sweetness comes from a group of sugars called oligosaccharides. These complex sugars are not digested until they reach the large intestine where they are introduced to hundreds of bacteria that live in your lower gut. Things get windy because we are missing an enzyme that is required to break down these sugars.

When beans get to the colon, the bacteria in the colon begins to ferment these sugars producing gas in the process — hydrogen and methane among them. The gas accumulates and eventually escapes your body — which may or may not be blamed on the dog. The best way to prevent gassiness is to cook them until completely cooked and tender, chew them thoroughly — remember digestion starts in the mouth — and enjoy them with whole grains and other vegetables.

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Canned vs Dried

While my pantry always has a couple of cans at the ready, I prefer using dried over canned for several reasons. One of which is dried beans are easier on the pocketbook.

Let’s do some math: One pound of dry edible beans yields about 6 cups of cooked; one can of is about 1 1/2 cups of drained cooked dried beans. My one pound of pinto beans for this recipe was $1.30. So, 6 cups for $1.20. And, can is at about $1.00. That same 6 cups of canned are $4.00. Granted, this isn’t a tremendous amount of money for many people, but it’s worth it. At that rate, it’s $200 a year – crazy to think about.

For me, as a cook, I prefer the way dried beans taste. The upside is you can control how tender or firm they are in the final dish and the amount of salt and any other ingredient that goes in them. If you cook them you can do what you wish with flavor. There’s no doubt they often take a little bit more effort and planning — but not always.

To Soak or Not to Soak

Soaking dried beans in the refrigerator overnight will reduce the time they have to cook. The texture and appearance will also be better, with fewer split or burst casualties. Soaking before cooking helps to remove some of those indigestible sugars that cause flatulence. Beans that have not been soaked ahead of time will always take longer to cook, but they will cook.

The thing to remember is that the older the dried beans are, the drier and harder they become. So, older beans that have been in storage or on the grocery store shelf will take longer to cook and “freshly” dried ones take less. And, this is true whether you soak them or not.

Overnight Soak

To prepare dried beans for cooking: Pick over and discard any loose stones or clumps of dirt. Rinse well. Place in a large bowl. Add cold water to cover by several inches. Soak for 8 hours or overnight.

Quick Soak

To prepare dried beans for cooking: Pick over and discard any loose stones or clumps of dirt. Rinse well. Place in a large stockpot and add water to cover. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and let soak for 1 hour. Drain, discarding the water.

Truthfully, I am just like you and often forget to soak them overnight. So, I usually resort to the quick hour method. 

Should I Salt Beans before Cooking?

Another controversial bean-to-pick is to salt or not to salt? Supposedly it can make the skins tough. However, according science-minded folk including Cook’s Country, Cooks Illustrated, Serious Eats, and reknown food scientist, Harold McGee salting beans at the beginning of cooking does slow down the cooking somewhat, but won’t stop them from softening. And, there is a new movement to actually brine your beans! 

Read that again, because pretty much everywhere tells you not to salt your beans. Add salt to your beans. I do.

How to Cook Beans on the Stovetop

Drain the pre-soaked beans and place in a large pot. Season with salt and pepper. Add water or stock to cover by a few inches. Add any aromatics such as herbs and garlic. I also usually coarsely chop an onion and add it, too. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

How to Cook Beans in the Instant Pot

This may be the main reason I have an instant pot – to cook beans. I admit, I was slow to the dance, but I finally saw the blue-grey glow of the digital light. The best part is there is no pre-soaking. The second best part is there are no hours of simmering. It’s simple. One pound of beans + 8 cups of water in an 8-quart instant pot takes 15 to 20 minutes to come to full pressure before cooking begins. Then, 30 minutes to cook and 20 minutes to naturally release the pressure.

In addition to 1-2 teaspoons of salt, I often add a teaspoon or so of olive oil for flavor. I will also pop in bundle of herbs and maybe a few smashed garlic cloves. So, honestly, it is only a minimum of 30-45 minutes faster than cooking on the stovetop, but the instant pot makes the whole process a “dump and stir.”

How to Cook Beans in the Slow Cooker

This is from The Bean Institute. Yes, really.

  1. Rinse beans in a colander under cool, running water and remove any that look shriveled or discolored.
  2. Place them in the slow cooker with enough water to cover the beans plus two inches. Use a 3 ½ quart cooker for one pound of beans or less. A 5-quart cooker will hold two pounds of beans. Keep in mind that the beans will expand to twice their volume during cooking.
  3. Add two teaspoons of salt per pound. If you like, you can add aromatic ingredients like quartered onions or whole garlic cloves.
  4. Cook on your slow cooker’s low setting until they are tender. Depending on their size and type of bean, this will be between three and six hours.bean soup on

You Should Be Full of Beans!

Eat more beans! Hey, blame the dog! 😉

Do you need more even more info and ready to add more international dishes to your recipe repertoire? I am very excited about the new cookbook by Joe Yonan called Cool Beans, available 4 February and available for pre-order now! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy my Pinto Bean and Kale Soup.

Bon Appétit, Y’all 

Virginia Willis 

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. (That means I make a commission if you use my affiliate link to buy the product.) 

Pinto Bean and Kale Soup

Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Presoak overnight/quick soak1 day 2 hours
Course: main, Soup
Cuisine: American, Creole, Southern
Keyword: bean soup, dried beans, kale soup, pinto beans
Servings: 8


  • 1 pound dried pinto beans, pre-soaked
  • 16 cups 1 gallon water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock, more if needed
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Bouquet garni: 2 bay leaves preferably fresh, 5 sprigs thyme, 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, and 10 black peppercorns tied together in cheesecloth
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, or to taste
  • 12 ounces smoked turkey sausage, sliced
  • 1 16-ounce bag chopped kale
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Hot sauce, for serving


  • Place the soaked, drained beans in a large pot. Add the liquid to cover then garlic, onion, and bouquet garni. Season with the teaspoon or of salt and the pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are almost tender, 1 to 2 hours. Add the turkey sausage and continue cooking until the beans are tender, an additional 30 minutes or so. When the beans are cooked, add the kale and stir to combine. Make any adjustments to the consistency by adding more stock or water. (It’s mean to be soupy, not a scoop-able side dish.) Once the kale is just wilted, taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with hot sauce on the side.

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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