Soaking dried beans is a somewhat controversial topic. Some people swear by it, insisting that it reduces gas (eh, maybe) and removes toxins (it definitely does not), but the only guaranteed benefit is shorter cooking time. Still, that’s not nothing, especially if you need dinner on the table ASAP.
Thanks to my inconsistent meal schedule, I’m typically ravenous and grumpy by the time dinner rolls around; the quicker I get some real food in my stomach, the better. For this reason alone, I always try to soak my beans.
Soaking beans under refrigeration slows down the rehydration process and discourages fermentation, keeping your beans fresh and usable for days at a time. I’ve found that after about two days in the fridge, even dried chickpeas need all of three minutes in a pressure cooker or half an hour on the stove to become perfectly tender. It’s not quite as fast as cracking open a can of beans, but it’s pretty close—and way more delicious.
All you have to do is place your beans in a bowl, cover them with a couple inches of cold water, and, if you like, stir in some salt. (I do, and I use half a teaspoon per quart of water.) Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to three days, though I suspect they’ll keep for even longer. Should you forget about your beans for the better part of a work week, as I have, a quick sniff check will ease your mind. As long as they smell OK, the only difference you’ll notice is in the cooking time.