BUY THEM DRIED
For the longest time, I didn't bother to cook my own beans (and still often end up reaching for a can at times) despite people telling me how far superior home cooked beans are. I'm not great at planning meals ahead, and was always bound to have last minute plans come up the day after setting beans to soak on my counter. The notion that I had to remember to soak beans and then be sure I was home to cook them was more than I could deal with. And yet, everyone really was right. Home cooked beans are outrageously good.
I think the big shift was once I actually did manage to soak some beans and cook them, and the result was so aromatic, and satisfying and delicious that I have made more of an effort since. But the BIG shift came once I was converted to the Rancho Gordo cooking method. Rancho Gordo, based up in Napa, sells beautiful heirloom beans and grains in cute little bags for what seem like outrageous prices at boutique grocery stores. $6! For a bag of beans! Then, I realized this bag of beans was enough for more than 4 meals and what seemed like a boutique luxury was actually pretty reasonable.
People get weird about cooking beans, or perhaps just opinionated. Do you dump the soaking water? Add salt at the beginning? End? Baking soda? There are theories about the soaking water being responsible for beans' notorious flatulence, and how when you salt the beans impacts cooking times. It's too much to keep up with.
I love the Rancho Gordo method because they take the path of least resistance, and what you end up with is a big ol' pot of delicious beans. No time to soak? No problem! Just cook them longer. What should you put it them? Anything you want! And if you do soak, just keep the cooking water - there's probably some good vitamins in there. Their main takeaway: don't worry. You won't screw it up. Amazingly, this is often the theme I try and impart in my gardening workshops.
So, on a rainy day off, despite not having soaked any ahead of time, I threw some beans on the stove in the early afternoon and left them to slowly cook while I went about my day. That night, we had the best dinner in weeks.
Basic Bean Recipe
Based on the Rancho Gordo method
If you have your stuff together, soak your beans up to 6hrs in advance, covered in cold water and left on the countertop.
Ok, first you start with some fat and aromatics over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot (a dutch oven works great). Some diced onion in olive oil works or if you are a bacon person, you can cook up some diced bacon. To the fat (bacon grease or olive oil) add onion, carrots, celery and/or fennel. I'd say onion is the most important part here. I also like to add a couple crushed garlic cloves to the sautéing onion.
After your aromatic are translucent and smell great add your beans and their soaking liquid. If you didn't soak ahead of time, add your beans and a good amount of water to cover (I like to cover by a good 1.5"). I also add a drizzle of olive oil and anything else I want to flavor the beans at this point - usually a dried chili and a bay leaf. You could also add springs of thyme, a peel of lemon or even a cinnamon stick if you want a warmer spice taste. Now, bring the beans to a hard boil, and it boil for a good 10-15 minutes. This is another great addition of the Rancho Gordo method. They say, at this stage you "want to teach the beans who's boss". I like that.
After 10-15 minutes, turn the heat down as low as it will go while still getting the occasional simmering bubble. Cover the beans, and leave the lid ajar - allowing the liquid to reduce a little, becoming more concentrated in flavor. You will lose some liquid, so if the beans do not have enough water at any point (the water level leaves them like rocks drying in the sun), add boiling water from your tea kettle.
Check for doneness occasionally (it can take hours) but you'll notice when the beans are almost done as the scent changes - they become meatier and smell richer. Once they are almost done add a good amount of salt and cook until completely tender. Just like with soups, once the beans are done, add a splash of acid - lemon juice or vinegar. Taste and add salt or acid as needed. ENJOY and for the love of pete, do not dump the bean broth. It's so good! Use in soups or for the liquid in recipes.
Remember! As they say at Rancho Gordo...
"...[keep] in mind there are few absolutes when it comes to cooking beans, only that it's very hard work to mess up a pot of beans."