• Yield: 4 to 6 cups

  • Time: soaking time, 6 hours up to overnight prep, 1-2 hours cooking, 1-2 hours, active total

Beans certainly hold up better in the industrial canning process than many other vegetable, but there are still many good reasons to cook your own, not the least of which is the fact that so many canned varieties come packed with way more sodium than you need.

Here's my adaptation of bean maven Steve Sando's basic stovetop method for cooking beans. If you have a pressure cooker or a slow cooker, feel free to experiment with it. This recipe gives the beans a relatively neutral seasoning that leaves them easy to take in different directions. If desired, you can add herbs and spices (torn dried chile peppers, toasted and ground cumin seeds, black peppercorns, oregano) to the cooking liquid, but resist the urge to add anything acidic, such as tomatoes, citrus, or vinegar, until the beans are cooked, or the skins of the beans will not soften as they should.


  • 1 pound dry beans of any variety

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 1 small yellow or white onion, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 2 large cloves garlic, smashed

  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, or more to taste


1. Rinse the beans, picking through them to remove any debris. Pour them into a bowl and add enough water to cover them by about 1 inch. Soak for at least 6 hours and preferably overnight.

2. Pour the oil into a medium pot over medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook until the vegetables start to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the beans and their soaking liquid, and add more water as needed to cover by about 1 inch.

3. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low or medium-low so that the liquid barely simmers, cover, and cook the beans until tender, 1 to 2 hours (or even longer, depending on the variety and age of the beans).

4. Add the salt, and cook for another 10 to 20 minutes so that the beans absorb the salt. Taste, and add more salt if needed. Whatever you're not using immediately, cool to room temperature and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or portion into heavy-duty freezer-safe plastic bags and freeze for several months.

From Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One by Joe Yonan (Ten Speed Press, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by Joe Yonan. Photographs copyright © 2011 by Ed Anderson. All rights reserved. Used with permission of Ten Speed Press.

Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post and author of Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook (Ten Speed Press, 2013).