Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit: Instant Pot Edition
You can have beans with every meal when you pressure cook them in the Instant Pot. Here’s a guide to perfect Instant Pot beans!
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Dear reader, I promise to keep the fart jokes to a minimum. Yes, the article is about beans and the Instant Pot. Yes, the Instant Pot does produce a certain hissing sound from its steam-release vent that is arguably congruent to the hissing sounds produced by habitual bean-eaters. Yes, it is difficult to resist. But no, I will not succumb to my baser instincts. This article will, aside from this introductory paragraph, be almost completely flatulence-free.
My topic instead is how best to cook beans in the Instant Pot countertop pressure cooker. Like many home cooks, I was a pressure-cooking ignoramus when the Instant Pot made its debut and captured the hearts of millions with its easy operation and excellent results. It was (and is) my first pressure cooker and I use it all the time for stock and stews and hard-boiled eggs.
But beans are the killer app for this device. No soaking required, for even the toughest legumes. Added to that, the cooking time is shorter than traditional methods — maybe not instant, but usually less than a third of the time as cooked in a non-Instant Pot. And the results are impeccable — tender and creamy, toothsome and tasty. With the Instant Pot and a pound of beans, you’ll truly want to eat them with every meal.
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Instant answers to your Instant Pot bean questions
Soak up these tips before you get cooking.
Dry beans; photograph by Rachael Nusbaum
Why use the Instant Pot to cook beans?
As the name suggests, the primary benefit of the Instant Pot is speed. Whereas beans simmered in a slow cooker or a Dutch oven on a stovetop might take 6-8 hours to cook after an overnight soak, dried beans cooked in the Instant Pot are ready to eat in as little as an hour total time (depending on the bean). Plus, with the “set it and forget it” operation, Instant Pot bean recipes are a marvel of efficiency, usually requiring no more than a few minutes of active cooking labor. You’ll never go back to canned beans.
Do you have to soak beans?
You don’t! The magic of pressure cooking is that it forces higher heat into your beans than can be achieved under non-pressurized conditions. So, while you can soak beans if you have the wherewithal, you don’t have to. The Instant Pot makes short work of the bean-cooking process, soaked or not.
Is it true what they say about the magical fruit?
The more you eat, the better you feel? Absolutely. Beans are a great source of carbohydrates and fiber and protein and vitamins. They’re one of the healthiest things you can eat and at a price point that’s hard to beat.
How long does it take to cook dry vs. pre-soaked beans?
It depends on the size and variety of the bean. There are handy guidelines online for different varieties. Lentils can be cooked in as little as 10 minutes under pressure; black beans in 25-30 minutes. Larger dried beans like limas or favas can take an hour. But in every case, the cooking time will be drastically reduced compared with a simmered bean cooked without pressure.
If you soak your beans, you will usually be able to reduce the pressure cooking time by 1/2 to 1/3 compared to unsoaked beans.
Can you use any liquid to cook beans?
Pretty much! If you have stock or broth on hand, it makes a great cooking medium for beans and adds richness to the final product. But water works great, too. You can also add wine or beer for extra flavor.
How much liquid to use
A quick rule of thumb is to use a ratio of 1:3 for cooking beans — for every cup of dried beans, add three cups of water or other liquid. You can shave that amount of water down if you like a less soupy pot of beans or add more if you like leftover bean liquor.
What can you do with leftover bean broth?
Sometimes, your bean recipe calls for straining out the legumes from the cooking liquid. But don’t throw the liquid away. There’s a ton of flavor in that liquid and it can serve as a foundation for a whole other meal. Use it to make a vegetable soup; use some to moisten sauteed vegetables; use some as a braising liquid for a chunk of beef. Don’t let it go down the drain.
Should you salt your beans before you cook them?
Sometimes ancient wisdom needs to be discarded and, in my opinion, the prohibition against salting beans before they’re cooked can be ignored with impunity. But don’t take my word for it: Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats agrees.
How to tell if the beans are done
Taste a few! If they’re still a little al dente after the cooking time called for, give them a couple more minutes of pressure cooking, ten minutes of natural release, and then manually release the rest of the steam and taste them again.
Quick pressure release or natural pressure release?
For beans, I usually let the steam release naturally for 10-20 minutes before quick-releasing the remainder. But you can do what you like; it’s your life.
How to cook beans in the Instant Pot, step by step
Here’s a generalized method for making dried beans in the Instant Pot. Familiarize yourself with the basic technique and then explore the variety of options in the recipes that follow.
Step 1: Rinse your beans and then discard any bad ones
Select the beans that your heart desires, and rinse them under cold water, looking out for any broken beans or stray pebbles that may have made it past the bean factory’s quality control.
Rinsing dried black beans under cold running water; photograph by Rachael Nusbaum
Step 2: Pre-soak the beans before cooking, if you like!
This step is optional. If you are a planner and you think of it, cover your beans in salted water and let them pre-soak for 4-14 hours. If you, like me, rarely think more than one meal ahead, then use unsoaked beans. The pressure cooker will compensate for your lack of foresight.
Step 3: Prep your cooking liquid
If you’ve followed my previous article-length advice on bone broth, you’ll have deli containers full of liquid gold in the freezer ready to thaw for just this occasion. If not, don’t worry, water is an ideal medium for cooking beans. Refer to the recipes below, or follow the rule of thumb of 3 cups of liquid for every 1 cup of dried beans.
Step 4: Prep your aromatics and seasonings
Beans like alliums, in general. I usually chop and soften onions and garlic in the Instant Pot using the Saute function to lay down a foundation of flavor, especially if I don’t have any stock on hand. Beans like bay leaves, too, or whatever hardy herbs you’ve got in the fridge. Beans aren’t picky. Beans accept you as you are.
Step 5: Let ‘er rip (start cooking)!
Dump the rinsed beans in the Instant Pot, add the liquid and any additional seasonings, give the whole concoction a stir, then make sure the gasket is firmly seated in your lid and rotate it into place. Double check that the steam release handle is in the right position for cooking and pressure cook on High for the cook time called for. I use this handy reference table.
Step 6: Release the steam
If you’re ahead of schedule, let the Instant Pot naturally release; if you’re in a rush, give the steam a few minutes to calm down naturally, then flip the quick release steam valve to manually vent the pressurized steam.
Step 7: Check for doneness
Taste a couple beans. Are they as tender as you like? Taste a couple more to be sure!
Step 8: Adjust seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste.
Step 9: Concentrate the flavors, if you like
This step is optional. If you have an excess of bean broth in the pot, you can strain out the beans and return the liquid to the Instant Pot. Switch to Saute to cook down the liquid until it reaches your preferred consistency and then add the beans back in to come back up to temp.
Step 10: Eat the beans!
You did it. It’s bean time. Get down!
The best Instant Pot recipes for beans
Forget canned beans. Cook your beans in the Instant Pot and push them to the next level with these easy and delicious pressure cooker bean recipes.
With a little kick from canned chipotle chili and depth of flavor from a bay leaf, these simple, versatile black beans are ready in just over an hour. Eat 'em up plain, or add them to your favorite bean dip, enchiladas, or chili recipe.
If you can’t get ahold of pale “peruano” beans, you can use dry pinto beans or navy beans instead. Either way, you’ll love these bacon-infused beans made with vegetable bouillon.
Sometimes simple is best. This humble recipe starts with sauteed carrots, onion, and celery, then adds dried beans and chicken stock. After blitzing them under High pressure, throw in diced ham and a little garnish of parsley and you’ll have down-home bean stew fit for a king.
After pressure-cooking pinto beans, drain them and cook ‘em again in bacon fat or olive oil and puree them with an immersion blender to get the perfect side dish for Taco Tuesday.
When my raised bed kale and collard greens get to be more than I can handle, this is my go-to recipe to use up a bunch of excess harvest all at once. Bonus: White beans and greens are delicious.
Not that kind of fiasco, this Italian recipe is named for the creatively re-used Chianti “flask” that they were traditionally simmered in. It’ll be a success, I promise, especially when you dip crusty grilled bread into your bowl.
There’s a reason that their Italian neighbors call Tuscans “bean-eaters” — there are as many Tuscan bean recipes as there are medieval hill towns in Chianti. Ribollita is a white bean soup thickened with stale bread. Paesano food at its best.
Here’s a vegan lentil soup recipe that will restore your faith in legumes. Filling, simple, and delicious, you will want to eat a few bowls full.
I love to combine grains and beans in the Instant Pot for a quick and easy one-pot meal. Barley and red pepper and mushrooms make this vegan pinto bean soup a hearty option for a cold winter night.
Instant Pot inspiration
Read on for more Instant Pot recipes and tips from Yummly.