Whether you purchase your dried beans in a bag or loose out of a bin, always be sure to check them over and clean them before using.
You can sometimes find stones or debris with dried beans, and a quick sort can save you from the trauma of a cracked tooth. A quick rinse in a bowl of water can also sort out good beans from bad or stale -- bad beans typically will float and should be tossed out.
As for soaking, Food editor Russ Parsons says it's almost never necessary with beans:
"Most of the time, I don't soak my beans before cooking them.
"I learned this many years ago. Ironically, I was looking for a shortcut for soaking, because as much as I love beans, I can never seem to think ahead enough to start preparing them the night before. So I investigated various quick-soaks and even tried soaking a big batch of beans and then freezing it.
Ultimately, "Soaking dried beans does nothing for flavor or digestibility. The one thing it does is cut down on the cooking time, but just how much depends on how old and dried out the beans are."
For more bean science, check out Russ' story on beans.
ALSO:White beans with chorizo, clams and shrimp
Total time: 1 hour, plus 2 hours baking time for the beans
Servings: 6 to 8 servings
Note: Spanish chorizo can be found at Spanish markets as well as at select gourmet markets and cooking supply stores.
1/4 pound Spanish chorizo, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped