How to Slow-Cook Black Beans & Spin Them Into a Week of Meals

March 10, 2017

For more on simple and healthy weeknight dinners, check out Sarah's book, Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work.

I was always intimidated by cooking dried beans. I would either forget to soak them ahead of time (ahhhh!) or keep them simmering in a pot, only to find them undercooked at the end of the day. After a while, I began to shy away from recipes that suggested I try it again.

Discovering the simplicity of preparing dried beans in the slow cooker has thrown my trepidation out the window. You just combine a few ingredients and turn on the machine! A few hours later you have a perfect pot of beans. Life-changing. (But if you don't have a slow cooker, fear not: I recommend the method outlined in this recipe.)

Dried beans are one of the most affordable and versatile ingredients for a home cook. To stock your pantry with dried beans costs a few dollars and ensures you a building block for quick and healthy weeknight meals.

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For a week or so of bean-based dinners, make a batch of Slow Cooker Black Beans (double the recipe if you have a large slow cooker and a big family). The first night, serve them as is, alongside rice and sautéed kale...

...then, for the rest of the week use them up as follows:

  • Savory crêpes. Fill buckwheat crêpes with black beans, spiced squash, avocado, and Jack cheese. To simplify this meal, leave out the roasted squash and just grab some cheese and avocado for a lightning-fast vegetarian dinner.
  • Tacos. You can layer beans inside a tortilla with almost anything and call it a taco. Use a taco dinner as an excuse to finish up any half-eaten veggies, leftover roast chicken, or wilting herbs. Kale and sweet potato tacos are always a crowd favorite in my house (we double the amount of vegetables for the filling, then turn the leftovers into a frittata the next day).
  • Veggie burgers. Beans are a neutral, protein-packed base for veggie burgers. My family’s favorite bean-based burger is this Black Bean Quinoa Burger blend. Or, turn the mix into hash and eggs: Heat a large skillet with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and spread the mix out in a single layer, cooking it into a crispy hash. Serve the quinoa-bean hash with eggs and a salad.
  • Soup. A simple soup of beans, onions, peppers, and spices comes together in just 15 minutes. Top with anything from avocado and sour cream to crumbled tortilla chips and queso fresco.

For more on simple and healthy weeknight dinners, check out Sarah's book, Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work.

Photos of crêpes, veggie burgers, and tacos by Elizabeth Cecil.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sian Dart
    Sian Dart
  • CalamityintheKitchen
  • Tracy
  • birklake
  • Sarah Waldman
    Sarah Waldman
Sarah Waldman is a food writer and recipe developer living on Martha’s Vineyard. She is the author of, Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work.


Sian D. March 14, 2017
Day 1: a recipe I've used before but with these beans - yummo
Sarah W. March 15, 2017
Such a good suggestion - thanks Sian!
Sian D. March 13, 2017
Ok, this is my first 'week of recipes' I'm trying (but I'm going to semi-cheat and use a black bean recipe I'm familiar with, but with your water-bean proportions for the slow cooker -they're pretty similar - but I know this means all failings are on me, and all successes are on you).
Sarah W. March 13, 2017
That's not cheating, it's being smart ;) Good luck and enjoy your week of tasty meals.
Sian D. March 19, 2017
Meal 2: Enchiladas (+cheese, corn tortillas, tin of tomato, tin of corn).
Meal 3: VERY EXPERIMENTAL: was intended to be meatballs in tomato sauce, but I made it with what I had on hand, so it was kangaroo mince, ricotta (because kangaroo is so lean), an egg, about the same amount of slightly oven-dried cooked black beans as kangaroo, and then it was too wet so I added some cracked wheat / freekah/something mysterious I had in the pantry to the meatball mix. I browned the meatballs, then added a tin of tomatoes and some extra water. The meatballs fell apart. Oh well. I served with some barley mushroom risotto. Two experiments, neither failed! (the kangaroo meatballs don't resemble my imagined meatballs, but I'm not experienced at meatballs.)
CalamityintheKitchen March 12, 2017
I also love cooking beans in a crock pot. As an aside, just wanted to make sure everyone knows that beans freeze beautifully. This little tidbit revolutionized beans for me. Now I cook them in a big batch, spread them out on a cookie sheet, freeze, and then crumble into a zip lock. So easy to throw beans into whatever I am cooking!
Sarah W. March 13, 2017
Such a good tip! I've never tried freezing beans this way (although I do the same with blueberries). I'm going to give it a try!
Tracy March 12, 2017
I've had plenty of trouble with softening dried beans at a mountain altitude. The tricks that have worked for me are:
Add a 1 inch piece of dried Kombu seaweed during the first few hours of cooking. Pull it out before it disintegrates. (You won't really change the flavor either.)
Don't use salt until the beans are at least halfway softened!
This has worked with both slow and fast soaking methods for me.
Last of all - Don't give up! Homemade beans are so much better than canned.
Sarah W. March 13, 2017
Thank you Tracy - those are all really helpful and important points.
birklake March 12, 2017
after 8 hours in the slow cooker.... they are not cooked. Not soft or edible. They were fresh from the store, used the recipe exactly as described. Was hesitant, as I have always soaked and boiled in the past, and still not had great outcome. The description in the piece got me hooked, as I it seemed like an easy recipe. The flavour is fine.... I really only wanted them cooked. I can play with flavouring.
CalamityintheKitchen March 12, 2017
I have found slow cookers not necessarily consistent. I used to have one I got from the thrift store that seemed like it couldn't cook beans no matter how long it was on for. Never got hot enough. But then I got a new one (well, also a thrift store find, but newer...) and it cooks beans just fine.
Other idea, might check the date on your beans. Perhaps they were old and store didn't notice...?
Sarah W. March 13, 2017
Your point about the variying power of slow cookers is annoyingly true. I use a 7 year old Hamilton Beach model.
cookinginvictoria March 13, 2017
I am not sure if this would be the culprit, but I have found that adding acid (vinegar, tomatoes or citrus) to raw beans at the beginning can greatly add to the cooking time. I make unsoaked black beans in the slow cooker frequently and find they cook in about 3-4 hours. But I cook them mostly unadorned. I use a mashup of two recipes by Rick Bayless and Smitten Kitchen, cooking beans in water with one roughly chopped onion, a sprinkle of Mexican oregano, a spoonful or two of lard, and, if I feel like it, one crumbled, dry pasilla chile. I add salt to taste when beans are almost completely tender.
Sarah W. March 14, 2017
Thanks for chiming in Victoria. I love the idea of adding Mexican oregano. I made these black beans last night and they were tender in 3 hours but I cooked for 4 to be extra soft for the kids.
cookinginvictoria March 14, 2017
Yes, I find that cooking black beans in a slow cooker means that it's almost impossible to overcook them!
birklake March 12, 2017
huh? not sure what went wrong, but i read your description about life-changing afer too many hard beans in the past. I am now 8 hours in ... in your simple recipe in the slow cooker...and am as disapointed as the whole boil simmer beans on the stove. I think I will just go back to canned, and give up on dried. Don't follow this recipe.
Sarah W. March 12, 2017
Hey there - I'm sorry for your frustration! Are you disappointed with the flavor or technique? Hoping I can help resolve.