Legumes are considered plants that have pods with seeds inside and include beans, peas, lentils, peanuts and even alfalfa and other sprouts. There are many types of legumes (some you may be more familiar with than others) and include:
If you're interested in a diet high in protein and fiber and low in fat and cholesterol, you've come to the right starting point! Legumes also make a good replacement food for meats due to their nutritional content and great texture and flavor. You shouldn't have trouble finding most legumes, both dried and canned, at your local grocery store. Canned beans are used more often for convenience, but dried beans are cheaper. And you have the benefit of choosing the ingredients you'd like to add to flavor your dried beans. Most recipes work interchangeably with dried and canned beans.
If you're interested in an on-the-fly meal made from dried beans, you might want to reconsider. Most dried legumes need to be soaked in order to rehydrate them before cooking (this also helps your body break them down once they're consumed). There are some exceptions to the rule, like lentils and split peas. Before you begin your soaking process, it's best to sort through your beans and pick out any little pebbles or unusable beans and then rinse them to clean. About 1 cup of dried beans yields about 2 to 2-1/2 cups of cooked beans.
There are different methods for soaking dried legumes. Typically you add about three times the volume of water to your beans in a large stock pan. Don't add salt to your water, as it can cause them to become tough. For each of these methods, drain your beans before adding new cooking water to them.
Slow soak – Add water to the dried beans. Cover and refrigerate for six hours or overnight.
Hot soak – Bring water to a boil and add the dried beans and return to boil. Remove from the heat, cover and set them aside for two to three hours.
Quick soak – Bring water to a boil and add the dried beans and return to boil for about three minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and set them aside for about an hour.
Gas-free soak – Add dried beans to a stockpot along with boiling water. Boil for about three minutes. Cover and set aside overnight. Refresh the water until you're ready to use the beans. This type of soak helps eliminate the gas that can be caused by beans.
Whichever soak method you decide on, drain your beans before adding new cooking water to them. Again, follow the guide of adding about three times the volume of water.
Add your seasonings and/or onions, garlic, carrots or celery, and bring your beans to a vigorous boil for at least 10 minutes. Keep in mind that acidic ingredients like lemon or tomatoes should only be added once the beans are cooked.
Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until they're tender. Some people prefer to cook their beans in the oven. If you choose this method, cover them and cook at about 300 degrees F. You'll want to stir your beans on occasion and test their doneness. Also check whether you need to add a bit more water so the beans don't get dry. Generally, it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 1-1/4 hours to cook beans, depending on the type.
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