Most recipes call for canned beans as though they were the only option. Using them is exquisitely convenient, but making dried beans is almost as easy. Please hear me out before you click away!

I sometimes use canned beans when cooking for myself, so I'm not an uncompromising purist. But, no canned brand matches the flavor and texture of home-cooked beans. Certainly not after you rinse canned beans to reduce their sodium content and remove the remains of canned "bean juice."

Some dried beans do not require long soaking or hours to cook. Black-eyed peas need just a four-hour soak. They cook in 30 to 40 minutes, about what it takes to make a nice pot of soup. Or use the quick-soak method and black-eyed peas will be ready in two hours. Of that time, only 10 minutes involves you; the rest, while the beans soak and then simmer, is untended. For this method, bring the dried peas to a boil in a large pot, like cooking pasta, then cover and set aside for 1 hour. Drain, replace the water, and cook until the beans are tender, about 40 minutes.

Other dried beans may be ready more quickly, too, provided they are less than a year old. This can be hard to know. Shopping at stores where the stock moves quickly make this more likely.

A pound of dried beans is two and a half cups. When cooked, it makes 10 half-cup servings, less than the cost of most canned choices. You can cook just one cup of dried beans at a time and use them to make soup or chili for four servings.

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This soup, almost a stew thanks to all the good stuff in it, includes what southwestern Native Americans called the three sisters – beans, corn and squash. Warming and aromatic with smoked paprika, it makes a complete winter meal.

Southwestern Bean Soup

Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup dried black-eyed peas, 1-3/4 cup frozen or 1 (15 oz.) can, no salt added, rinsed and drained
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped butternut squash, in 3/4-inch pieces
  • 4 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup frozen yellow corn
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 cup steamed beet greens or chard (4 cups raw, chopped)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, for garnish

Directions

  1. Soak black-eyed peas in 3 cups water for 4 to 6 hours. Drain in colander, then transfer soaked peas to medium saucepan. Add 3 cups water and set pot over medium-high heat. Cover, leaving lid slightly ajar. When water boils, reduce heat to simmer and cook peas for 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain in colander, and set cooked beans aside. Or, refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to 3 days. If using frozen or canned black-eyed peas, skip these directions.
  2. In large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add squash, stir to combine and coat with oil, and cook 1 minute. Cover pot tightly, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 5 minutes. Add broth, corn, oregano and paprika. Cover and simmer soup until squash is tender, 10 minutes. Add greens and black-eyed peas and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. To serve, divide soup among 6 wide, shallow soup bowls. Sprinkle cilantro over each serving, dividing it evenly among bowls.

Nutritional Information Per Serving (1-1/2 cup per serving)

158 calories
3 g total fat
<1 g saturated fat
27 g carbohydrate
9 g protein
4 g dietary fiber
428 mg sodium