How to Cook White Beans

Having already discussed the many reasons to cook your own dried beans (they’re tasty, healthy, and inexpensive) and how easy it is, I won’t go into that again here.  What I will say is this: although you can further embellish these beans or use them in other recipes, these basic white beans are so good that I also like to just serve them with a spoon.  They are gently aromatic, tender, wholesome, and delicious.

You can cook any white beans following this recipe. Cannellini beans, flageolets, Great Northerns, navy beans, even chickpeas.  Larger beans will take longer to cook, that’s all.How to Cook White Beans: Soak beans overnight covered in several inches of water, or quick-soak them (bring beans and 3-4 times their volume of water to a boil for a full minute, then cover and remove from heat for at least an hour).  Or you can skip the soaking stage altogether (it will just take longer for your beans to cook).  Drain the beans if you soaked them.

In a heavy pot, cover beans with a few inches of fresh water, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and add aromatics: onions, garlic, herbs.  I follow Deborah Madison’s advice from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, of course: per cup of white beans, add 1 small quartered onion, 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of parsley, a big sliced clove of garlic, a tsp. of olive oil.  You could use any or all of these, plus infinite variations depending on the fresh and dried herbs you have at your fingertips.  Simmer, partially or fully covered, until the beans begin to soften (probably 30-60 minutes if you have soaked them), then add 1 1/2 tsp. salt per cup of beans that you started with.  Continue cooking until fully tender and let cool in the bean broth.  Remove onion, bay leaves and parsley stems before serving.

If you drain the beans to use in a recipe, please promise me that you’ll use the bean cooking liquid to replace part of the broth in the next bean soup or minestrone you make.  It’s too tasty to throw away, and full of beany nutrients.

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Related Recipes:
Creamy Herbed White Bean Dip or Spread
How to Cook Black Beans
How to Cook Chickpeas
How to Cook a Simple Pot of Lentils


20 thoughts on “How to Cook White Beans

  1. kamillajohns

    I love cooking white beans. Once cooked exactly your way, I then mix gently with olive oil, a few chilli flakes, some thin slices of red onion and some finely sliced garlic and a bunch of cherry tomatoes and put in a baking dish. I bake at 190degC for 20 mins in the oven with foil on and then another 20 mins with foil off until the tomatoes start melting into the beans and some of the beans start crunching up. Serve with drops of v good balsamic vinegar. Such a beautiful dish alone or with a few slices of serrano ham or as a side to roast chicken, steak or ribs. It’s a staple in our house x

    1. emmycooks Post author

      That sounds absolutely delicious. I love the idea of baking little tomatoes into the beans! I have made a similar dish with greens instead of tomatoes and I do love the crunchy/creamy contrast. Thank you for the delicious suggestion!

  2. Shira

    Awesome! I do try to cook my own beans whenever possible – it is so healthy and much more economical! Love the way you think Emmy!

  3. debbrunson

    This is a great post! Just yesterday in class, another student made hummus out of white beans and it was fantastic. I’m going to start using them more, and thank you for all the tips… and for scolding those who’d think about throwing out the cooking liquid! That made me laugh :) You’re completely right!

    1. emmycooks Post author

      It’s true. They are a pretty amazing meal by themselves, and they dress up so nicely! And alongside one of those quinoa salads of yours…yum.

  4. Pingback: Basic White Beans | sel et sucre

  5. thixotropic

    I’m completely incapable of imagining why a person would use canned beans. (I mean, really, now! Tsk tsk ;)

    But I do soak them longer — at least 24 hours with 3 water changes — according to WAPF/NT practice — they do have a lot of phytic acid, and that is best neutralised by longer soaking so that we get to absorb all of those minerals.

    I also both soak and cook the beans with a piece of kombu (Japanese seaweed). It breaks down the oligosaccharides, which are big indigestible sugars that cause gas when we eat them. It also adds a nice meaty flavor, and even a bit of thickening. Really good stuff! (No fishy/sea taste at all.)

    Thanks for your page!

  6. Kristin

    You lost me at the part where I was supposed to remove the parsley, onions, etc. it’s much harder to do than it sounded!

    1. emmycooks Post author

      Ah, yes–sorry about that. I just sort of scoop out whatever part of the onion remains intact and the parsley stems and bay leaves. The rest I just let melt into the beans. I hope yours tasted even better after all the care you took to clean them up! :)


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