dried beans are a staple in my home. they are one of my favorite foods for versatility, and comfort. they also take some time to cook which makes them right up my alley. i wont speculate on how many pots of beans i have cooked but i have a bit of an obsession. there are only a few things you can buy at the grocery store outside of the produce department that have only one ingredient, when i buy a bag of adzuki beans i get just that. no more. they are flexible in their presentation as well. pureed, drained and dressed for a bean salad, etc. they are also very important for health reasons. i read once that 70% of the world eats beans once a day. in places where proteins are to expensive or just dont really exist in a safe and healthy form, rice and beans together becomes a complete protein. it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids that your body can not create on its own. a pairing called protein complementation, in America its most popular form is in the PB and J sandwich. as if they needed more argument they are vastly available, dirt cheap (even what are more expensive beans and fancy lentils that i use at home and work for some things are really inexpensive) very sustainable, and have an almost infinite shelf life. they can be cooked to taste fantastic with water, and some salt as well. get to the store and buy some. start them in the morning or early afternoon and let them go all day, by dinner time they will be perfect. you cant mess them up, and if you think they arent as attractive as you would like then puree them and load in some fat.
i dont soak them. again i have cooked hundreds of pots of them. i have soaked them for hours and days and everything in between, i have cooked them really slowly, really fast, in every heating device i own, in every liquid you can fathom, in every pot/pan imaginable. it has never made a difference whether i soak them or not. from a chemistry standpoint i understand why it should work. the skin should soften allowing the bean to soak liquid up in a more relaxed manner. feel free to fool around with it, cause i would like to be proven wrong but dont think that it is rule by any means. never let the fact that you havent soaked them keep you from cooking them. you will need to wash them well. i go for a sheet pan and sort them first as they can contain bits of debris, rocks, even nails. no one wants to eat that. then place them in a strainer and rinse really well. this will remove surface dirt which if skipped will make the cooking liquid taste and look "muddy". i usually will cover them with plenty of water and place on high heat, then once they begin to boil i will turn them way down and let them go. i hate al dente beans, which is rough cause they look nicer before the skin starts to rip and burst (a sure sign they are almost done). the whole reason i love beans is the creaminess and mouthfeel you get from well cooked beans. different beans will take different amounts of time, i can cook pintos and blacks in a shade over two hours if i am relatively high on the heat. in a pinch it can be done in about 15 minutes in a pressure cooker at 12-15#'s of pressure as well. when you buy a can of beans from the store they arent cooked all the way. they are nice in a pinch but for obvious reasons i dont like to rely on them for more than emergencies. heat them and usually you will need to salt them a tad to make them right.
i know this is a bunch to absorb if you have never fooled with beans much, but i have faith in all of you. i also am fully aware that beans can be hated on for the side effects they can have on your digestive system. to prevent it i like a herb called epazote that is popular in Mexican quisine, but i will go for a product like bean-o if i dont feel like it pairs well with the bean i am using. as far as additions like a mentioned all you need is water and salt, but broths, and stocks will add flavor, as will onions, garlic, shallots, herbs, spices, bacon, ham hocks, ham bones and shanks, etc. i will almost always saute the aromatics to develop a bit more flavor before adding.
Oddly enough i have one warning (a question from a reader that actually encouraged this posting) DO NOT ADD SALT. never salt beans until they are almost done cooking. that means no store bought broths, no boullion cubes, no salt on the aromatics, etc. the sodium somehow effects the way that beans will absorb the liquid and will make them take absolutely forever to cook. wait to salt until you are sure they are done cooking, then salt (they lack any aggressive natural flavor so they will take quite a bit of it) allow the salt to dissolve and penetrate the beans a bit and serve. good luck.