It's a new year, and The Food Guys are urging us to emulate the ancient Romans by cooking with beans. According to Jon Jackson, pulses and beans were so integrated into Romans' culture and cuisine that four prominent families got their names from one: Fabius (fava bean), Lentulus (lentil), Piso (pea), and Cicero (chickpea).
Greg Patent's quick-cook method for beans: put dried beans into a 4-5 quart pot in enough water to cover the beans by less than two inches. Add nothing but salt (and that's optional). Boil hard, uncovered, for two minutes. Take the pot off the heat, cover, and let it sit for 1-4 hours. During that time, nutrients leached out of the beans will soak back into them. Drain the liquid and you've got beans that you can use right away in a soup or stew, or that you can refrigerate for 1-2 days before cooking further. Consider cooking with that second batch of liquid, since it's full of flavor and nutrients.
The old precaution to not add salt as beans cook, lest they toughen, is full of beans, says Greg: salt hastens cooking without causing toughness. So what DOES cause it? Food authority Harold McGee says it could be hard water that toughens the skins, preventing water from seeping in and softening the beans' interior. Or the timing of harvest or length of storage before you buy them might have rendered the beans tough.