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This super simple dish is can be served many ways

Staff, America's Test Kitchen on

Dried beans start out as the seeds of a bean plant that grow inside long pods. Those seed pods are dried in the sun until the water inside the beans evaporates, making the beans dry and hard. Drying beans this way allows them to last a long time on your pantry shelf.

To turn them tender again, dried beans need to be cooked in liquid, or rehydrated, which can take hours and hours. One way to speed things up? Brine the beans.

Soaking dried beans in a saltwater solution does two things: It softens the beans’ skins (the seed coats) and it shortens the time it takes to cook them. The skins of beans contain pectin, a molecule that “glues” plant cells together. As the beans soak in the brine, sodium ions in the dissolved salt weaken the pectin in the beans’ skins, making them softer and able to expand (instead of explode) as the beans absorb water.

During their time in the brine, the beans start to absorb water, first through their hilia (the little holes on the curved parts of the beans) and eventually through their entire seed coats. This gives the beans a hydrating “jump start” and means you won’t have to cook them for quite as long.

Simple White Beans with Garlic

Serves 4 to 6

 

4 cups plus 5 cups water, measured separately

2 1/4 teaspoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, measured separately

8 ounces dried cannellini beans

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

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