Everything you need to know about legumes

Black, white, pink, green and many colours in between, legumes (such as dried beans, lentils, and peas) play an important role in foods around the world. In this age of fusion cooking, beans jump from cuisine to cuisine, mixed and matched into a variety of delicious dishes.

Everything you need to know about legumes

Nutritional value

Packed into 250 millilitres (one cup) of black beans:

  • About 225 calories.
  • More than 30 percent the daily requirement for protein.
  • More than half the daily requirement of folate to fight birth defects.
  • Fibre to maintain a healthy digestive system.
  • Iron to help prevent anemia.
  • Magnesium to keep bones healthy.
  • Phosphorus to maintain strong teeth.
  • Zinc to fight off infection.

At the market

  • Season: Legumes are available dried, canned or frozen year round.
  • What to look for: Name-brand products are usually better quality than generic or store-brand products, but the nutritional value is the same. Generically-labelled packages and cans may or may not contain more broken or squashed beans. When buying dried beans in bags or bulk, look for clean, smooth, evenly shaped beans with little or no debris.
  • Where to buy the best: A good health food store or natural foods market may be best for buying dried beans in bulk. Health food stores are also the best source for dried and canned organic beans and lentils. All supermarkets carry packaged dried beans and canned beans; some carry organic brands.

In the kitchen

  • Storing: Dried and canned beans keep indefinitely. Store dried beans in a sealed package or covered container to keep out dust, debris and insects. Once cooked, store, covered, for up to five days in the refrigerator.
  • Preparation: Dried legumes should be well rinsed before using and picked over to remove any foreign particles such as pebbles or clumps of dirt that may have slipped through. With the exception of lentils, all dried beans should be soaked before cooking.Place in a large bowl with plenty of cold water to cover. Leave to stand at room temperature for at least eight hours or overnight. Or, combine the beans with water to cover in a large saucepan. Heat to boiling; let boil for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for one hour. Whichever pre-soaking method you use, discard the soaking water before cooking and add fresh water.
  • Basic cooking: All legumes can be cooked using a ratio of one part beans to three parts water. Combine beans and water in a saucepan. Do not add salt; it hardens the skins and lengthens cooking time. Boil over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until tender, about two hours for most beans. (For black beans and lima beans, check after one hour.)

Fresh ideas

  • Combine mashed white beans with tuna, chopped onion and dill to make a sandwich spread or dip.
  • Mash chickpeas with parsley, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper to make a low-calorie, low-fat hummus. Serve with small triangles of pita bread.
  • Mix several types of beans (black, red, pinto, for example) in a vegetarian chili dish.
  • Toss warm lentils in a vinaigrette dressing and combine with chopped onion, cherry tomatoes, arugula and coarsely chopped romaine lettuce to make a warm side salad.

Legumes are widely available and easy to prepare. Keep this guide in mind and add legumes to your diet today!

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