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How to cook a simple, flavourful pot of beans and use it throughout the week

Use whatever bean you like, and these instructions will help you cook it right - and use it to make delicious meals

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By Joe Yonan | April 11, 2020 | Recipes

I've said - or written - it so many times, I long ago lost count. But here goes again: The key to quick-but-interesting weeknight cooking is to get in the habit of making building blocks on the weekend when you have time, and then learn to use them in a variety of ways during the week. As a vegetarian, I'm talking about roasting vegetables, steaming grains and, my favourite, simmering a pot of beans.

Now that we're spending so much time at home, you don't have to wait until the weekend to do such cooking. But you should still do it, especially since beans have emerged as the shelf-stable, nutritious star players of the pandemic pantry. The Instant Pot may have been one of the best things to happen to dried beans in recent years, but now you don't have to worry quite so much about how quickly beans can cook under pressure; you can give them the low-and-slow treatment they love.

I'm perhaps better equipped than most of you to know what to do with those beans once they're cooked, as I spent years researching a cookbook focused on them. To me, the options seem almost endless, and they go far beyond the chilis, soups and other stews you might already know and love. Once you make the pot of beans as I'm instructing here - and I'm offering three easy methods (stove top, oven and pressure cooker) - you can make at least three of the following dishes later in the week. And if you want to make all of them, just make a pound and a half of beans, or even 2 pounds. You'll be happy to have leftovers, which freeze beautifully.

The accompanying recipes assume that you used good old pinto beans for this pot, but the instructions are the same for whatever bean variety you choose, and you can substitute whatever you'd like.

Simply Perfect Pot of Beans. Image: Joe Yonan.


Active: 15 minutes | Total: 90 minutes

12 servings (makes 6 cups beans plus liquid)

The timing will vary widely and depends on the variety of beans and their age. Note that these instructions do not call for soaking the beans, as it is not required, and the flavor is best if you don't soak. However, if you want to soak because you're not sure how old your beans are and want to cut down slightly on the cooking time and reduce flatulence, soak them overnight (or 4 to 12 hours) at room temperature in a salt brine to help soften the beans' skins: Use 1 tablespoon kosher salt and enough water to cover by 3 inches, then drain. If you soak in a brine, reduce the salt in the cooking water to 1 teaspoon. Note that the optional kombu has been found to be as effective as soaking in terms of helping soften the beans' skins and can also reduce flatulence.

Storage Notes: The beans can be refrigerated, in their cooking liquid, for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 6 months.


1 pound dried beans, picked over and rinsed


1/2 yellow or white onion, peeled

3 garlic cloves, peeled

2 bay leaves

One (5-inch) strip kombu (dried seaweed, optional)

1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste


STOVE TOP: In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot set over medium-high heat, combine the beans with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, kombu and salt.

Bring the water to a boil. Boil the beans for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to low so the liquid is barely bubbling, cover, and simmer until the beans are very tender, 60 to 90 minutes or longer. (Periodically check and add more hot water if needed to keep the beans submerged.) Test at least five beans from different parts of the pot to make sure they are tender. Remove and discard the bay leaves, onion (if desired) and, if it hasn't disintegrated, kombu. Taste and add more salt, if needed.

OVEN: Using the same timing as on the stove top, after boiling the beans for 10 minutes, cover, transfer them to a 300-degree oven and bake until the beans are very tender. (If you have a bean pot, which is taller and narrower than a Dutch oven, use it: The bean liquid will be particularly rich.)

INSTANT POT OR OTHER PRESSURE COOKER: Increase the water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Cook at high pressure for 25 minutes, then use the natural-pressure-release function. If the beans are undercooked, either bring the machine back to pressure and cook for an additional 5 minutes, then manually release the pressure to check again, or continue to cook the beans uncovered, on the saute function if using an Instant Pot. When the beans are tender, cook them uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes to reduce and concentrate the broth.

Nutrition | Calories: 134; Total Fat: 1 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 386 mg; Carbohydrates: 24 g; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugars: 1 g; Protein: 8 g.

(Adapted from "Cool Beans" by Joe Yonan. Ten Speed Press, 2020.)

Pinto Bean Tortilla Salad. Image: Joe Yonan.

Pinto Bean Tortilla Salad

2 to 3 servings 

This is an updated version of "Texas Salad," which Joe Yonan's mother made for special occasions when he was growing up in West Texas. 

The vinaigrette can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. To save time, feel free to use your favorite store-bought tortilla chips instead of frying your own. After they are fried, the tortillas can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.


For the cilantro vinaigrette

2 tablespoons lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

For the salad

1/2 cup peanut oil, for frying

Three (6-inch) corn tortillas

6 cups (about 8 ounces) lightly packed, torn romaine lettuce leaves

1 1/2 cups cooked or canned no-salt-added pinto beans (from one 15-ounce can), drained and rinsed

3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal

1/2 cup vegan or dairy feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced


Make the vinaigrette: Combine the cilantro, olive and canola oils, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt in a blender; puree until smooth. Taste and add more salt as needed.  

Make the salad: Line a plate with paper towels. 

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add 2 or 3 tortillas (or as many as will comfortably fit); fry them on each side until crisp and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Lift each tortilla with tongs and let the excess oil drip off, then transfer it to the paper-towel-lined plate. Working in batches, repeat with the remaining tortillas. Let the tortillas cool, then break them into bite-size pieces. 

In a large bowl, toss the tortilla pieces with the lettuce, beans, scallions, feta, tomatoes, and 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette. Add the remaining vinaigrette, if desired, or reserve for another use.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 3): 465 calories, 13 g protein, 44 g carbohydrates, 27 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 408 mg sodium, 13 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar

(Adapted from "Cool Beans" by Joe Yonan. Ten Speed Press, 2020.)

Bean and Poblano Tacos With Quick-Pickled Onions. Image: Joe Yonan.


2 to 3 servings 

This recipe was designed for kidney beans, with their beautiful crimson color and hearty texture, but pinto beans are made for tacos, too. The Washington Post Food and dining editor Joe Yonan likes to pair the beans with thick slices of mild poblano pepper, whose hint of heat and bitterness sets off the beans' creaminess, but you can substitute green or red bell pepper. And nothing beats the addition of pickled onions; you'll have more than you need for this recipe, but they keep well.

The pickled onions can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.


For the pickled onions

1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup white distilled vinegar

1 red onion, thinly sliced

For the filling

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 poblano peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch slices

1 small yellow onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

1 3/4 cups cooked pinto beans, drained but not rinsed (may substitute canned beans or cooked or canned red kidney beans, black beans or chickpeas from one 15-ounce can)

Six (6-inch) corn tortillas

1/2 cup store-bought salsa

1/2 cup vegan or dairy feta, crumbled

Toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), for serving


Make the pickled onions: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the grapefruit juice, orange juice, lime juice and vinegar. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and add the red onion. Let cool in the pan. (To store what you don't use for this recipe, transfer the onions and marinade to a quart-size Mason jar and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.) 

Make the filling: In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the poblanos, onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables start to soften, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the cumin, cinnamon, paprika, salt and pepper and cook until the spices are very fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the beans, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook just until warmed through. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm. 

Warm the tortillas in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for a few seconds on each side, then wrap them in foil. 

To assemble the tacos, lay out the tortillas and top each with some of the bean-poblano mixture. Top each with a spoonful of the salsa, feta, pumpkin seeds and a few slices of pickled onions. Serve hot. 

Nutrition | Per serving: 366 calories, 12 g protein, 49 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 751 mg sodium, 12 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

(Adapted from "Cool Beans" by Joe Yonan. Ten Speed Press, 2020.)

Garlicky Beans and Broccoli Rabe Over Toast. Image: Joe Yonan.


4 servings

My take on "Heartland" author and chef Lenny Russo's wonderfully satisfying bowl of beans and bitter greens amps up the garlic and uses the rich bean cooking liquid instead of stock. I love serving these beans over toast to make it a meal.  


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces broccoli rabe, cut into 1-inch pieces (may substitute kale, mustard greens or arugula)

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 cups cooked pinto beans, plus 1 cup cooking liquid (may substitute great Northern beans, navy, cannellini or other white beans)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 thick slices rustic sourdough bread, lightly toasted

11/2 teaspoons chile oil (optional)

1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) shaved or grated vegan or traditional Parmesan cheese


In a deep skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Stir in the broccoli rabe and cook, stirring, until very tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until it starts to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the drained beans, reserved cooking liquid and the salt. Cook just until the beans are hot and the flavors have melded, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the pepper, taste, and add more salt if needed.

Divide the toast among shallow serving bowls. Drizzle with the chile oil, if desired, and spoon the bean mixture and broth on top. Finish with the Parm and serve hot.  

Nutrition | Per serving: 365 calories, 16 g protein, 46 g carbohydrates, 13 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 781 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, None g sugar

(Adapted from "Cool Beans" by Joe Yonan. Ten Speed Press, 2020.)

Peruvian Beans and Rice (Tacu Tacu). Image: Joe Yonan.


2 to 4 servings 

In Peru, this pancake of leftover rice and beans traditionally uses creamy canary (a.k.a. mayacoba or Peruano) beans and aji amarillo paste (made from Peru's favorite chile). But you can also use pinto or another favorite bean, and Tabasco or another vinegary pepper sauce makes a fine substitute for the amarillo. This often comes topped with steak and/or a fried egg, but it's delicious and hearty on its own, especially with a crunchy onion salsa. Some cooks fry individual portions in the oblong shape of an omelet, but I prefer one large cake, which you can divide and serve as you please.


For the salsa criolla

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon aji amarillo paste (may substitute 1 teaspoon Tabasco or other pepper sauce)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the tacu tacu

3 tablespoons grapeseed, safflower or other neutral vegetable oil

1/2 small red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon aji amarillo paste (may substitute 2 teaspoons Tabasco or other pepper sauce)

2 cups cooked pinto beans, drained and rinsed (may substitute canned pinto or canary beans, from two 15-ounce cans)

1 cup cold (preferably day-old) cooked white rice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried

1 lime, cut into wedges


Make the salsa: In a medium bowl, combine the onion with enough cold water to cover, and let sit for at least 10 minutes, then drain. Toss with the cilantro, lime juice, aji amarillo and salt.

Make the tacu tacu: In a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the salt and aji amarillo, and scrape the mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Wipe out the skillet.  

Add 1 cup of the beans to the food processor and puree briefly until mostly smooth but still chunky. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup beans (left whole), the rice, parsley and oregano to the bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Taste, and add more salt if needed.  

Return the skillet to medium heat and pour in another 1 tablespoon oil. Add the rice-and-bean mixture and use a spatula to spread it around evenly and lightly pack it down. Cook until deeply browned on the bottom, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, invert a plate (preferably with no rim) on top of the skillet, and carefully flip both over to land the bean-and-rice cake bottom-side up onto the plate. Return the skillet to medium heat, pour in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and slide the cake back into the skillet. Cook for another 7 minutes, or until deeply browned on the other side, then invert the plate and flip the skillet over again to land the cake onto the plate. If the cake cracks or breaks apart, just pat it back together.  

Top with the salsa and serve hot with lime wedges.  

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 3): 262 calories, 7 g protein, 33 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 644 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar

(Adapted from "Cool Beans" by Joe Yonan. Ten Speed Press, 2020.)

Harissa-Roasted Carrot and Bean Dip. Image: Joe Yonan.

Harissa-Roasted Carrot and Bean Dip


8 servings (makes about 2 cups)

The combination of harissa and mint - one spicy, one cooling - takes this dip into can't-stop-eating territory. Instead of pinto, you can use cannellini, navy, great Northern beans or chickpeas.

The dip can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.


8 ounces carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon harissa, plus more (optional) for finishing the dish

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing the dish

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

5 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 3/4 cups cooked pinto beans plus 1/2 cup cooking liquid (may substitute canned beans from one 15-ounce can, drained but not rinsed, with can liquid reserved)

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, plus more chopped mint for finishing the dish

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

On a small rimmed baking sheet, toss the carrots with the harissa, 1 tablespoon oil and salt. Place the garlic on one side of the sheet. Roast 20 to 25 minutes, until the carrots are fork-tender. Let cool slightly.

Squeeze the soft garlic cloves out of their skins into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add the carrots and use a spatula to scrape in as much of the browned roasted harissa bits from the pan as possible. Reserving a few whole beans for garnish, if desired, add the rest to the food processor or blender, plus the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the mint and lemon juice and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add a little water or some of the reserved bean liquid, a few tablespoons at a time, to loosen the mixture if it is too pasty in texture. Taste, and add more salt if needed.

To serve, spoon the dip onto a shallow plate and use the back of a spoon to swirl it. Add the whole beans and a little dollop or two of harissa, if desired, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped mint. Serve with pitas, crackers or raw vegetables. 

(Adapted from "Cool Beans" by Joe Yonan. Ten Speed Press, 2020.)

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