Wrap the bay leaves, garlic, and herbs in cheesecloth and tie with twine. Put the beans in a large pot and cover with water by 2 inches (about 2 quarts). Add the herb bundle and the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer, cover, and cook until the beans are tender (try biting into one) but not splitting and falling apart, 1 to 2 hours depending on the type and freshness the of beans. Cannellini and kidney beans take about 1 hour and 15 minutes; chickpeas may take up to two hours. (check occasionally to be sure the beans aren’t boiling and are covered with liquid; add water if needed). Discard the herb bundle.
If you're using the beans in soup, reserve some of the cooking liquid for the broth.
Make Ahead Tips
You can cook the beans up to three days in advance; let them cool in their cooking liquid and refrigerate them, covered, in their liquid.
Photo: Scott Phillips