There are a lot of opinions about cooking dried beans, including whether or not to soak them before cooking. The difference comes down to how fresh the beans are. Beans used within 2 years of drying usually don’t need soaking. The problem is that we don’t know how old the beans bought from a store are. Whenever possible, I’ve begun getting my beans from sources like Rancho Gordo in Napa or our local Shagbark Seed & Mill, as they are always very fresh and of the highest quality.
Sourcing the freshest of beans isn’t always possible, though, and there are a couple of ways to soak. The easiest is to carefully pick through your beans to remove any stones. Cover them in cold water for at least 6 hours. Or, bring covered beans to a rapid boil, and then set aside for up to 4 hours.
Drain the beans and cook with fresh water. Add 1 bay leaf. Boil the beans for 10 minutes, then simmer gently, partially covered until tender, adding boiling water if necessary to keep the beans covered. The length of cooking time depends on the freshness of the beans. Some will be cooked within the hour, so keep checking. Salt can be added at the end of cooking.
Save the bean cooking liquid. It can become the base of a soup right away, or frozen for future use.
For sprightly bean-forward recipes see Cool Beans.