Cooking with legumes

Legumes and pulses are full of fibre and more protein than grains, however people are often put off by them because they involve more cooking time, and often unfortunate “gassy” side effects when eaten!

There are many great reasons to include this important food group in to your diet. They are very nutritious and very economical to purchase. They also bulk up a dish to make it go further, and add great flavour to many dishes. They are also so versatile; lentils, beans and peas can be added to salads, casseroles, curries, pasta sauces, soups, and rice dishes just to name a few.

Start with tinned

If you haven’t ever cooked with legumes before, then starting off with tinned varieties is the best way to begin. Types such as kidney beans and chickpeas are the easiest to get canned and have lovely flavours for the beginner. If you do go for the tinned varieties, then make sure you rinse them thoroughly first. Also try to find a brand of tinned beans that don’t have the white lining, which is plastic (BPA) and not a good idea to be exposed to.

Dried lentils are easy

When progressing to dried varieties – lentils are the best things to start with as they don’t require long cooking times. Red lentils only need about 30 minutes and don’t need to be soaked before hand (although they do need to be rinsed). Brown and green lentils need a little longer and soaking will reduce cooking time.

What to do with dried beans

When progressing further to dried beans, most need to be soaked for 8 hours – so it is best if you decide what you are going to cook the night before and then cover with plenty of cold water and leave over night. If they are soaked in the fridge they will need longer so I usually just leave them on the kitchen bench, particularly in winter this is fine.  Once soaked, they will need cooking for anywhere between 1-2 hrs depending on the variety.  Discard the soaking water before cooking, and don’t add salt to the cooking water, as this will make the legumes go hard. Salt should only be added after they are cooked. I sometimes add herbs such as bay leaves to the cooking to give extra flavour to the legumes.

Starting with recipes that require a long cooking time is another good way to go, as most of the “smelly” problems associated with legumes are because people don’t cook them for long enough.

Freeze for convenience

Legumes can also be frozen, so you can soak and cook up a batch and then freeze ready for when you want to use them. Every 2 months or so, I will soak a whole heap of beans and peas (usually on a Saturday night – exciting stuff at my place!) and then do a big cook up on a Sunday. I freeze individual portions of legumes, which I then add frozen straight into the meal I am cooking. I don’t even defrost them! That way they work like adding a can into the dish.

See my Food section of the blog to find some healthy and delicious recipes that use legumes.

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