Good things come in small packages. Despite their tiny size, legumes are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Virtually fat-free, they contain no cholesterol but lots of calcium and iron. To make a good thing even better, they’re available in a colorful array of varieties--dried, canned and frozen--and they’re economical, to boot. Extremely versatile, beans have a mild flavor that makes them perfect partners with spices and herbs.
Beans also contain complex sugars that when eaten tend to cause flatulence (gas). You can lessen this effect by discarding the water after soaking beans for uncooked and cooked dried beans, rinsing canned beans, adding a little vinegar near the end of cooking or using a few drops of over-the-counter products.
Look for legumes at your supermarket, farmers’ market, ethnic foods and gourmet markets as well as health food stores and food co-ops for more unusual varieties.
- Fresh, high-quality beans are bright in color with smooth, unbroken seed coats.
- Legumes of the same size will cook more evenly.
- Rinse legumes in a colander before cooking, and pick out any stones or shriveled, small or damaged beans.
Dried Legumes: Most legumes will keep indefinitely but are best when used within 1 to 2 years. Store them in their original packaging or in airtight glass or plastic containers label the container with the date you filled it. Store in a cool (60° or less), dry place.
Cooked Legumes: Refrigerator: Cover and store cooked legumes in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Freezer: Freeze cooked legumes in airtight containers for up to 6 months.
Adzuki Beans: Small, oval, reddish brown beans with a light, nutty flavor. They originated in China and Japan. They taste similar to kidney beans and can replace them in recipes.
Anasazi Beans: Kidney-shaped, red-and-white speckled beans the spots disappear when cooked. The name is Navajo and means "ancient ones." Their sweet, full flavor makes them excellent for Mexican dishes.
Black Beans: Also called turtle beans, black beans are found in the cuisines of Mexico, South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. Dark and tasty, they stand up well to bold seasonings.
Black-Eyed Peas: Also called cowpeas and black-eyed suzies, black-eyed peas are creamy colored with a small, dark brown to black spot on one side. They don’t require presoaking and cook quickly. Found in traditional southern recipes, black-eyed peas pair well with strong-flavored greens such spinach, chard and kale.
Butter Beans: Large, cream-colored lima beans with a smooth, buttery texture and mild flavor. They’re often served as a vegetable side dish or added to soups, main dishes and salads for color and texture interest.
Cannellini Beans: Large white kidney beans that originated in South America. Adopted by Italy, they are often mixed with pasta and added to soups and salads.
Cranberry Beans: Pink with dark red streaks, these beans fade during cooking but retain their nutty flavor. They’re a favorite in Italian cooking and are also known as Roman beans.
Fava Beans: Large flat beans with an earthy flavor that appear brown and wrinkled when dried. They are the bean of choice for the Middle Eastern specialty falafel.
Garbanzo Beans: Tan, bumpy and round, garbanzo beans need long, slow cooking. Also called chickpeas, they are used in the popular Middle Eastern dip Hummus. Their firm texture makes them a good addition to soups, stews, casseroles and salads.
Great Northern Beans: Kidney-shaped white beans that resemble lima beans, as well as their cousin, navy beans. Can be used in any dish calling for white beans, such as casseroles and soups. Cannellini beans are a good substitute, although they’re smaller.
Kidney Beans: Available in dark and light red, they add color and texture to many dishes. A favorite in Cincinnati-Style Chili as well as in Red Beans and Rice.
Lentils: The familiar small, grayish green lentil is only one of the many types and colors of lentils used around the world. Also available in white, yellow, red and black, dried lentils do not require presoaking, and they cook in a short time.
Lima Beans: The choice of regular and baby sizes make them a wonderful addition to multibean salads, soups and casseroles. (Also see Butter Beans.)
Marrow Beans: The largest and roundest of the white beans, marrow beans are typically served as a side dish.
Mung Beans: Called grams, or when hulled, moong dal, this sweet-flavored bean is native to India and is also popular in China. Americans know its sprouted form as bean sprouts. Use them in place of lentils or peas in recipes.
Navy Beans: Also known as pea beans, these small, white beans are so named because they’ve been a staple of sailors’ diets since the early 1800s. You’ll find navy beans in commercially canned pork and beans, and they’re the bean of choice for homemade Old-Fashioned Baked Beans.
Pink Beans: Popular in the cooking of the western United States, these reddish-brown beans are interchangeable with pinto beans in recipes.
Pinto Beans: Speckled pink and brown when dried, they fade to a uniform pinkish brown when cooked. Their full-bodied, earthy flavor makes them a staple of southwestern and Mexican cooking.
Red Beans: A dark red bean that’s popular in Mexican, southwestern United States and Caribbean cooking. Use them interchangeably with kidney beans.
Soybeans: Soybeans are becoming very popular! They’re incorporated into energy and nutrition bars, salt-crunchy snacks and are being used just like any other type of bean in all sorts of recipes. Check out our Soybeans and Rice recipe on page 364. Much of the soybean harvest is processed into oil or tofu (bean curd) and tempeh, often used in meatless dishes.
Split Peas: Available green or yellow, split peas are used mostly in soups. They don’t need presoaking and cook in less time than beans. When cooked, they turn into a soft mush, making them perfect for soups and stews, as well as for dal, a spicy Indian dish.
Soaking Dried Legumes Before Cooking
With the exception of black-eyed peas, lentils and split peas, dried legumes need to be soaked before cooking to soften and plump them. Soaking also makes beans more digestible by dissolving some of the sugars that cause intestinal gas. After soaking dried beans, discard the water and cook the beans in clean, cold water. And don’t forget: Most legumes rehydrate to triple their dry size, so start with a pot that’s big enough.
There are two methods for soaking legumes:
- Quick-Soak Method: Place dried legumes in a large saucepan add enough water to cover them. Heat to boiling boil 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for at least 1 hour before cooking. Drain, then cook in clean, cold water.
- Long-Soak Method: Place dried legumes in a large saucepan or bowl add enough cold water to cover them. Let stand 8 to 24 hours. Drain, then cook in clean, cold water.
Tips for Cooking Dried Legumes
- If dried legumes haven’t been rehydrated, they’ll double or triple in volume as they cook, so be sure to use a large enough saucepan or casserole.
- Use legumes of similar size and cooking times interchangeably in recipes.
- To reduce foaming and boilovers during cooking, add 1 tablespoon butter, margarine, olive oil or vegetable oil to the cooking water drain legumes and rinse. If the water does foam, skim it off once or twice.
- Simmer (rather than boil) beans, stirring them gently or the skins may burst.
- Go ahead and add seasoning such as garlic, onion, oregano, parsley or thyme during cooking. Just don’t add salt or acidic ingredients. Salt and acid toughen beans, so add salt and ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar, wine and tomatoes (whole, sauce, paste or juice) only after beans are soft and tender.
- To test if beans are done, bite into one or two. They should be tender but not mushy. Not only does overcooking ruin the texture, it reduces the nutrients.
- If legumes aren’t quite tender but they’ve absorbed all the water, add a little more water and cook longer.
- Legumes continue to dry with age, so you may need to add more water than a recipe calls for and they may take longer to cook. If the legumes are really old, they may never soften completely.
- High altitude or hard water may increase cooking times.
- You can cook legumes in the microwave, but it’s no time-saver because microwaving can take 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes. For best results, cook legumes slowly for a long time in lots of water.
- We don’t recommend cooking legumes in a pressure cooker because they can foam during cooking and clog the pressure valve, causing a sudden release of pressure and possibly forcing the lid off.
Basic Directions for Cooking Dried Legumes
1. Sort legumes, discarding any stones or shriveled, small or damaged beans rinse and drain. Place 1 cup legumes in 3- to 4-quart saucepan. (Lentils do not require soaking or precooking.)
2. Add enough cold water (about 3 to 4 cups) to cover legumes.
3. Heat to boiling. Boil uncovered 2 minutes.
4. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer (do not boil or legumes will burst), stirring occasionally, for amount of simmer time in chart or until tender.
From "Betty Crocker's Complete Cookbook, Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today, 9th Edition." Text Copyright 2000 General Mills, Inc. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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