When you first start eating a whole foods plant-based diet one of the biggest changes you may encounter is finding yourself eating A LOT more legumes (i.e. beans and lentils). In the Standard Canadian Diet legumes are not usually a daily event — case in point, the UN’s declaration of 2016 as the Year of the Pulses, which aimed to encourage people to reconsider the humble pulse, and promoted the understanding that legumes are a great source of plant protein (as well as fibre and numerous and varied other nutrients).
Indeed getting more beans and lentils into your daily diet is a powerful thing you can do to increase the quality of your diet. Generally, they are loaded with protein, iron and zinc, as well as fibre, folate and potassium. They are naturally low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and they are a rich pre-biotic food (feeding friendly flora). The result of one of the biggest ever analyses of diet and cancer by the American Institute for Cancer Research, which entailed nine independent research teams from around the globe sifting through half a million studies (in 2007), included a number of key recommendations for preventing cancer, and one of them was to eat whole grains and/or legumes with every meal.
So, what does that look like in practical terms? It’s something that I have to admit I still struggle with sometimes. Getting enough beans in is the one aspect of my diet I still have to think about consciously on a regular basis. I love hummus and other bean dips – they are an easy way to get more beans into your day, and I usually have at least one variety on hand. I love to include beans and lentils in soups, and more recently even sauces – cannellini beans in particular are a great thickener that adds nutrition and allows you to cut down on the nuts in a creamy, rich sauce.
But today I want to talk about a particular aspect of bringing more beans into your world. Do you go with canned or cooked from scratch? And if you are cooking from scratch, what are the key tips you need to know about?
First off, let me say that in my opinion there’s nothing wrong with using canned beans (although do shop carefully and look for brands that don’t add sodium or other ingredients, and are BPA-free). If that’s what you need to do to get those beans in, then go for it. However, if you ARE eating a lot of legumes, it can get expensive VERY quickly to rely only on canned items. Dried beans and lentils are MUCH more economical, so it’s a great way to keep that shopping bill under control, as well as have versatility and control in the first stage of cooking your legumes.
Buying lentils dried is a no-brainer. They cook very quickly and do not need to be soaked ahead of time, so don’t even bother with the canned variety – go straight for the dried ones.
Here are some basic guidelines for a couple of common varieties to get you started:
- RED LENTILS: Use about 3 cups water/liquid: 1 cup red lentils. Wash them well (although know it’s almost impossible to get that water to run clear), and put everything into a pot with lots of room to expand. Bring them to a boil, cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until they are tender. Drain any extra liquid. Red lentils typically fall apart – they are great in soups and curries where you are not concerned about having the texture of a whole lentil.
- BROWN/GREEN LENTILS: Use about 2 cups water/liquid: 1 cup lentils. Wash them well, making sure to pick out anything that looks like it could be a small stone. Place liquid and lentils in a saucepan (with dried herbs such as a bay leaf, or a fresh rosemary stalk, or even some onion and garlic if desired) and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce heat (don’t let it boil for too long or the lentils may start to crack) and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, until the lentils are the texture you are looking for.
*note, you can add herbs/spices or other flavourings while you are cooking the lentils, but hold off on adding any salt until after this first stage of cooking since salt can interfere with the proper cooking process.
When it comes to beans, it’s a bit of a different story. Many of them require soaking, and life becomes A LOT easier and faster if you invest in a pressure cooker of some sort. Here’s a guide for cooking beans from scratch using either a pressure cooker, or the usual steeping method (you can of course also use a slow cooker if you have one):
- Wash and sort beans, removing any that are broken or discoloured, as well as anything that looks like a stone.
- To improve digestibility, soak them overnight (or do a quick soak by boiling them for 10 minutes, then removing from heat and letting them sit for 1 hour). To soak, cover with plenty of fresh water. After soaking discard any water that has not been absorbed and rinse the beans well. Use fresh water for cooking.
1-3 hours (not recommended)
· Black-eyed peas
· Black turtle
· Great northern
|Long term beans:
· Garbanzo (chickpeas)
· Black soy
· Yellow soy
- Pressure cooking soaked beans: cover by 1/2 – 1 inch of water
- Steeping soaked beans: cover by 2 inches of water
- Pressure cooking unsoaked beans: use 2 1/2 parts liquid: 1 part beans
- Steeping unsoaked beans: use 3 (medium-term) – 5 (long-term) parts liquid: 1 part beans
- Add an inch or two of kombu seaweed to your beans as they are cooking to increase digestibilty, and add valuable minerals (**but be sure to remove the kombu carefully after cooking – don’t eat it, as it contains a higher dose of iodine than you would want in one sitting).
- If you prefer ginger, adding several slices of ginger to your cooking beans will also help digestibility.
- Add extra depth of flavour to your beans by cooking them with herbs or spices – ancho chile is one of my favourites with black beans!
- But once again (and it’s even MORE important with beans since they are longer cooking), leave out the salt until the next stage of cooking as it can interfere with the cooking process and you may end up with improperly cooked beans.
And really, that’s it! Though it takes some time, and a little planning, it’s very simple. I always like to keep lentils on hand so I have a quick legume to use if I haven’t planned ahead – OR I make a big batch of beans in my pressure cooker and stick them in sized containers in the freezer to take out when I need them. Easy, right? Ok, now I have inspired myself to get back on track with this. 🙂 If you have bean tips to share, please do!