The Larder TM_TL_WBEANS_FI_001

White Beans Three Ways

Kick the can for better, simple meals


From the time I was young, I’ve had an instinct to tuck bits of food away for later. During my pre-school years, my mother would regularly find a crumbly handful of cheddar goldfish tucked into my sock drawer or a half-eaten banana in among my Golden Books. In high school, I always had a granola bar in my backpack, just in case hunger struck during after-school play rehearsal. In college, friends knew to knock on my dorm room door when they got peckish during late-night study sessions.

As an adult, I’ve channeled this instinct into the maintenance of a well-stock home pantry. There’s something I find deeply comforting about knowing that at any given moment, I can put my hands on two or three pounds of dried pasta, canned tuna fish, jars of tomatoes, brown rice, oats and half a dozen different kinds of beans.

Of those pantry staples, I reach for the beans most often. Whether you start with canned or dried, beans can be the foundation of so many meals. All spring and summer long, I make bean purees for dipping and salads of cannellini beans, young vegetables and light vinaigrettes  During the colder months, I make turkey chili with pinto beans, simmer borlotti beans with ham hocks for soup and slow bake dishes of navy beans with lashings of molasses and strips of bacon.

Though I do frequently reach for canned beans because of their convenience, I try to cook a pot of beans from dried a couple times a month as well. Dried beans are so affordable and give you both cooked beans and a pot of broth (I look at it as a bonus for being thrifty).

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow, people have gotten it into their heads that cooking dried beans is somehow tricky or challenging. Truly, it’s one of the easiest and most satisfying kitchen tasks.

You start with a pound or two (it depends on how many you’re feeding and what your plans are), place them in a large bowl. Sift through them to ensure there are no sticks or stones and cover them with water. I like to soak them for at least a few hours (overnight is also good) before cooking, but I’ve also skipped the soaking step entirely with no ill effects.

Once you’re ready to cook, pour the beans and the soaking liquid into a large pot and add a bit more water, so that they are covered by about three inches. Add any flavor enhancers (garlic, onions, peppers, carrots, celery, bacon, rosemary, thyme, etc.), place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil. When it reaches a rolling boil, turn the heat down, crack the lid a little and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the beans are tender. Cooking time varies depending on the size and age of the beans as well as the length of time you soaked them. When beans are tender, salt them to taste and use.

The following four recipes are how I cook a pound and a half of white beans (I like Great Northern beans, but everyone has their own favorite) and how I use them once they’re cooked. The spread is similar to hummus, but has none of the grittiness that I associate with chickpeas. The salad is the sort of thing I like to keep in the fridge and eat for lunch over baby greens. It’s also a nice dish to take to a potluck, though if I’m doing that, I’ll also add a cup or two of a cooked whole grain like wheat berries or barley to bulk it up. And the soup is one that I make all winter for warmth and easy sustenance.

Note: One of the old wives tales about cooking dried beans is that if you salt them before you cook them, you’ll end up with tough beans. I’ve salted before cooking, during and after and have found no discernible difference in the results. I tend to salt at the end of cooking simply to avoid over-salting.

Basic White Beans


  • 1 1/2 pounds dry white beans
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt


Place beans in a large bowl that can hold at least twice their volume. Sift through to ensure that there are no stones or other foreign material. Cover beans by 2 inches with clean, filtered water and let it sit overnight.

The next day, pour soaked beans into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add another quart of water, so that the beans are once again submerged by 3 inches, as well as the rosemary, garlic and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cover. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the beans are tender.

White Bean Spread


  • 2 cups cooked white beans
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons bean cooking liquid


Combine beans, garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. With motor running, stream in olive oil. If it appears quite thick, add some of the cooking water, to help loosen it up. Puree until entirely smooth. Taste and adjust salt, if necessary.

Serve with crackers, cut vegetables or on slices of toasted country bread.

White Bean Salad


  • 4 cups cooked white beans
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bundle flat leaf parsley, minced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste. Let sit for at least an hour before serving, to allow the flavors to marry.

White Bean Soup


  • 5-6 cups cooked white beans and all cooking liquid
  • 4 ounces small dried pasta
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups baby arugula or baby spinach (optional)


Place beans and broth in a large soup pot and bring to temperature.

In another pot, bring enough water to a boil, salt it well and cook the dried pasta until it is just cooked through. When it is cooked but still toothsome, add the pasta to the beans. If you want a bit more liquid in your soup, add some of the pasta cooking water as well.

Add olive oil, vinegar, and garlic. Stir to combine, taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary (both components have already been salted, so you want to take care not to oversalt the soup).

When the soup has reached a boil, it is ready to serve. If using, place a handful of greens in the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle soup over top.

Serve hot.

Marisa McClellan is a food blogger, freelance writer and canning teacher based in Center City Philadelphia. She runs a website called Food in Jars, where she writes about canning, preserving and delicious things made from scratch. She regularly writes for the Food Network, USA Today, Grid Philly and Mrs. Wages. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.


  1. Marlon says:

    I can attest to the tastiness of Marisa’s white bean spread! I’m tagging these recipes to make some time soon.

  2. These look delicious. I am one of those that has a hard time (ha!) with dried beans, though. I always soak them overnight, but they never seem to get completely soft while simmering, even after a couple of hours. The only time I’ve ever gotten completely tender beans is when I accidentally left my slow cooker on overnight (and woke up to deliciously caramelized beans, reminiscent of the baked beans I grew up with, but that is beside the point).
    It looks like the difference is that I have always been cooking the dried beans as part of the dish (i.e. letting them simmer in a complete soup or hoppin’ john for hours) rather than on their own, so perhaps I’ll try this again this winter.

    • Joy Manning says:

      I always felt this way about beans too, Sara, until I became a devotee of the pressure cooker! Now it’s the only way I ever cook them.

  3. Rachel says:

    Cooking the dried beans in slow cooker works too. Cover with boiling water, add springs thyme, garlic cloves and whatever else and cook on high for 4 hours

  4. Sara S. says:

    I made pinto beans recently (so I could mash them up and eat them with tortilla chips) and didn’t soak them before cooking them in my pressure cooker.

    Holy cow did the ‘musical fruit’ thing come true for me 😛 Good thing I live alone.

    Normally what I do is a ‘quick soak,’ where I boil the beans for two minutes and then turn off the stove and let them sit for an hour or so. I do this with the pressure cooker pot (w/o the lid). Then I rinse them, to get rid of the oligosaccharides that cause the ‘musicality’ of beans. I put the beans back and add new water to the pressure cooker pot (filling the pot about halfway). Pop the lid on and get the pressure cooker valve a-rockin’, then follow the instructions that came with the pressure cooker for how long to cook each type of bean. When the time is up, I turn the stove off and let the pressure cooker valve release the pressure naturally. I always get perfect beans.

    Another thing I do, when I’m *really* thinking ahead, is to soak the beans in a bowl overnight, rinse them in the morning (again to get rid of those pesky oligosaccharides), and pop them in my tiny crockpot (it’s the queso-sized one), filled about 3/4 of the way with water, to cook on low while I’m at work. Another way to get perfect beans!

    I looooooove beans, if you can’t tell 🙂

  5. Just made the white bean spread. So laughably easy that I can’t believe I waited this long in my life to make it! We stripped down the recipe slightly, using jarred lemon juice rather than lemon zest/lemon. Excellent, easy, and a healthy inexpensive dish. Thank you!!

    Dan @ Casual Kitchen

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