Everything you need to know about preparing, cooking and serving legumes.
Packed with fiber, protein, and carbohydrates, legumes are a great component to any diet.
They come in many shapes, sizes, colors and variations, which can often cause a bit of confusion when attempting to prepare a dish with them.
Dried legumes, in particular, are often a mystery to most people. “What exactly are they? How do you cook them?” and “What’s the difference between legumes and beans?” Are just a few of the many questions we frequently hear on the subject.
Here we’ll address them all and give you the details you need so you know exactly what to reach for and how to cook them the next time you need to!
How To Cook Legumes
Legume is essentially the overarching term for all bean-like food items. Lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, soybeans and even peanuts are all technical members of the legume family.
Each of these variations greatly differs from one another in terms of taste, texture, and nutrition.
While we love peas, chickpeas, soybeans, and peanuts, for our purposes today we’re going to mainly focus on beans and lentils.
What’s The Deal With Canned Beans?
First and foremost – canned beans are great too! We’re not knocking canned beans by any means. They’re inexpensive, convenient and still packed with nutrition. But, they really only taste OK. Hear me out.
When prepared well, dried legumes have a far superior taste and texture as opposed to canned beans. There are also way more options – I’m talking triple if not quadruple the number of options.
So yes, you can still use canned beans in a pinch or when you’re looking to save some money, but if you have the option, always reach for dried legumes.
So what exactly are all of those bean varieties I was talking about?
Well, you’re definitely familiar with some of them. Black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and red beans are all available dried. You can also find some smaller beans like split peas or some small lentils. You can even find the really big ones in dried varieties, fava and lima are just a couple of examples.
Each of these different legume varieties has a slightly different taste. Some are earthy while others are a bit sweeter, it all depends on the particular legume.
In contrast, when cooked well, the texture of these legumes should all resemble one another. We’re looking for a firm texture that has a bit of creaminess too it. We want to avoid getting a mushy, overly-soft texture or any grittiness.
How To Cook Dried Legumes
Before we get into it, don’t be intimidated by the time it takes to cook beans. It seems daunting and overwhelming at first, but when you think about it, you’re really only ‘hands-on’ for 15 minutes or less. Most of the time the beans are just soaking or cooking on their own.
Another important note – be sure to check the expiration date on your beans. If they’ve been hanging around the back of your pantry for upwards of a year, you might want to opt-out and grab some new ones.
Old beans have a very difficult time softening, sometimes they actually just never soften. So you may end up never getting the end result you’re looking for. They also lose their nutritional value over time as well.
Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s jump right in!
Step 1: Soak Your Legumes
Smaller beans and lentils really don’t need any soaking, but medium and larger sized beans on the other hand do.
Why you might ask?
First, it will reduce the amount of time it takes to actually cook the bean. Second, they tend to taste a bit better after having gone through the soaking period. Your dishes will have a much stronger, robust flavor!
Third, they are much easier for your body to digest. More specifically, soaking your beans can allow for a significant reduction in gas production as a result of bean consumption. So, if you’re one of those people that often gets a bit gassy from canned beans, try making your own and soaking them next time.
To soak your beans, cover them with a couple of inches of water in a bowl with a bit of baking soda. The baking soda helps break them down. Let them sit for at least six hours, preferably overnight if you’re able to. Once they’re done soaking, strain your beans and you’re ready for the next step.
Side note – do you have to soak your beans? No, you don’t have to, but we definitely recommend it due to the numerous benefits.
Step 2: Simmer Your Legumes
Once your beans are soaked and ready to go, you’re ready to start cooking them.
Cover your beans with a couple of inches of freshwater in a pot, then add a bit of salt to the water. This will help the tough skin of the beans break down even further. Next, Bring your beans to a soft boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.
The goal is to cook your beans just until they’re tender. In addition to the age, the size and type of the legume you’re working with will determine the length of time it takes for the legume to tenderize. Your best bet is just to monitor and taste test your legumes every so often.
Step 3: Add Flavor To Your Legumes
Don’t forget to add some aromatics to your legumes while they cook! Add things like garlic, herbs and bay leave to give your legumes some depth. Doing so also results in a stock-like fluid when the beans are done, so feel free to use this too!
Once your legumes are tender and ready to go, don’t forget to add a bit more flavor. You can add a bit more salt, some herbs or even acid (check out the benefits of acid here). Think about the dish you’ll be using the beans in and try to complement those flavors.
Step 4: Let Your Legumes Rest
This time we won’t be straining our legumes. Take your beans off of heat and place them in an ice bath in your sink. This gives them a bit of time to rest and reduce their temperature while still soaking up all of that great flavor we’ve added in.
Step 5: Serve!
Once rested and cooled, you can take the beans you need for your recipe then store the leftovers in the refrigerator in their liquid.
The results should be tender but not soggy and al dente but not coarse. They’re great as a complementary side, mixed with veggies in a skillet or simply on their own as a snack!
The next time you’re in the kitchen cooking up some legumes, we have some great tools and resources for you to use. Here are some of our favorites:
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We can’t wait to see what you come up with!