Makes 6 cups
Hands-on time: 5 minutes
Total time: 3 to 4 hours plus soaking time
Sure, you can use canned beans, but the dried ones offer a more toothsome texture and more bang for your buck. If you soak them overnight, then finish them in a slow cooker, most of the prep time is hands-off. And whether you freeze them or use them right away, these beans work great as the base for quick meals on busy evenings, like Sesame Bean-and-Pasta Salad or White Bean and Sausage Sauté.
Why White Beans? In a sea of blacks, reds, and pintos, the white bean is easy to overlook. We love these pale beauties for their creamy texture and adaptability. Our recipe uses great northerns, but feel free to sub in other varieties, such as cannellini or navy beans. Just don't overcook them. Their delicate texture can turn mushy if they're simmered too long.
Rinse and drain the beans, picking out any damaged beans or small stones. In a large bowl, soak the beans, covered by 3 inches of water, for 8 hours or overnight.
Drain the beans and rinse them well with fresh water. Transfer them to a slow cooker. Add 7 cups of water and the bay leaf. Cook the beans in the slow cooker on high until they are just tender, 3 to 4 hours. Drain them, but save the liquid if you're planning to freeze them (see below).
Eat 'em right away: Stir the cooked beans into your favorite tomato soup to add protein, or serve warm beans over tortilla chips, topped with salsa, shredded cheese, and lettuce.
Freeze 'em for later: Divide the beans into 2-cup portions, place them in ziplock freezer bags, and cover them with cooking liquid. Store them for up to three months.