Once you get them home, sort through the beans and pick out any with blemishes and little pebbles.
Give the beans a good rinse, put them in a bowl, and cover them with a few inches of water. Pick out any floating beans—they are too old.
No Soaking: Split peas and any variety of lentils don’t need soaking; you can go straight to cooking. For other beans, some people skip the soaking step and just cook them longer. You’ll retain more nutrients that way but you’ll also end up with the unpleasant gassy side effect.
Quick Soak: Bring beans and water to a boil in an uncovered pot, remove from heat, cover, let the beans steep in the hot water for an hour or two, and then drain.
Add Aromatics and Cook
Some ideas: parsley, thyme, bay leaf, oregano, onion, cloves, garlic, celery, and carrots. Do not add anything acidic like tomato or lemon until the cooking is done. A strip of kombu (dried kelp) will also help tenderize the beans, though the flavor can come through in dishes where you don’t want it.
Bring the pot to a gentle simmer on the stove with the pot partially covered. You can also cover the pot and put it in the oven at around 300°F.
Skim and Keep a Close Eye
How long? Lentils can cook in as little as 20 minutes. Most beans need 1 to 2 hours or more.