Here are some tips for buying and using beans:
When buying beans, look for smooth, whole beans. Old beans take a long time to soften, and sometimes they never get soft.
Store dried beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Do not refrigerate until you are ready use them.
Before preparing the beans, carefully sort through them and remove any shriveled beans and non-bean materials that may have sneaked in.
A pound of dry packaged beans equals about 2 to 2-1/2 cups dry beans, or 5 to 6 cups cooked beans. A 16-ounce can of beans contains about 1-2/3 cups.
Thoroughly rinse dried beans before soaking. For the traditional method, soak the beans in cold water for 10 to 12 hours or overnight. Use at least three to four times as much water as beans. To improve digestibility, change the water frequently.
For the quick method, cover the beans with 2 inches of boiling water. Boil for two to three minutes. Cover and let soak for one to four hours.
After soaking the beans, cover with water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer slowly to prevent the skins from breaking, adding more water as necessary to keep the beans covered.
Altitude, the hardness of water and the age of the beans will affect the length of the cooking time. Do not add salt, baking soda or acidic foods (such as tomatoes and lemon) until after the beans are at least partially cooked, as they toughen the skins and slow down the absorption of water (lengthening the cooking time).
If you are not going to use the beans immediately, drain them while they are hot and store the beans in the refrigerator for four to five days. You can also place the drained beans in small containers and freeze.
Beans can be used to thicken soup. Just drain and rinse a 15-ounce can of beans, puree in a blender or food processor and add to thicken 4 to 6 cups of soup.