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Beans, Peas, &Lentils (Dried)
These pantry staples, known collectively as legumes, are among the most healthful of foods. They are low in fat and high in protein, fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, they are inexpensive and, in the case of dried legumes, have a good, long shelf life, keeping well for a year when stored airtight in a cool, dry cupboard. From Boston baked beans and split pea soup to hummus and black beans with rice, star in many favorite dishes. Nevertheless, some people avoid cooking dried legumes because the preparation required. Hard as small pebbles, dried beans require re-hydrating to soften them. This is done by soaking and cooking. Depending on your schedule, you can, however, select a long- or quick-soak method. Either is effective. You can avoid the soaking question altogether by buying beans in cans, which can be acceptable but are more costly, are heavy in the grocery bag, and take up more storage space. If beans are not cooked thoroughly, they are hard to digest. And even when cooked properly, beans cause gas in many people. Eating them often is a good way to accustom your system to them and reduce the problem significantly. Commercial antigas products such as Beano can be sprinkled on the beans just before eating, which also helps. Dried peas and lentils and certain other dried legumes do not require soaking and cook in less than half of time.
Dried legumes are sold pre-washed in plastic bags and occasionally in bulk in supermarkets. Health-food stores that carry dried legumes generally sell them in bulk. Choose clean looking beans and lentils that show no signs of shriveling and but them from stores with good turnovers. For canned beans, any commercial brand is acceptable. Fresh beans and peas should be firm and have good bright color. Green beans should break with a satisfying "snap."
Store dried legumes in a cool, dry cupboard in their packaging on in a tightly lidded canister or jar. They will keep for up to a year. Slip fresh peas and beans into a perforated plastic bag and refridgerate for up to five days. Like all fresh vegetables, however, fresh beans are best when eaten within one to days of purchase.
Dried beans require soaking and long cooking. Lentils and other non-bean dried legumes do not require soaking. Canned beans can be added to recipes at the point where the cooking of other ingredients begins, as for soup, or when they are mixed with other ingredients, as in hummus. Fresh beans can be boiled , steamed, sauteed, stir-fried, or added to soups and stews. They can be served hot as a side dish or cooled to room temperature and dressed with a vinaigrette. Before soaking beans or cooking legumes, regardless of method, rinse them in a colander under cool, running water, scooping them between your fingers to make sure any debris washes away. Some recipes tell you to sort or "pick through" the beans before rinsing them, which simply means to discard any misshapen beans or foreign matter (small stones and the like). Dried beans and legumes used to be packaged rather carelessly. Today, they are generally very clean, although you should still check them. There is a school of thought that debunks the necessity of soaking altogether and instead promotes cooking beans as soon as they are rinsed. Using this "shortcut" method increases cooking times, but usually not by more than 30 or 40 minutes. If you opt for no soaking, test the beans for done-ness every 10 to 15 minutes after the traditional cooking time is reached. To cook, drop the rinsed dried beans into boiling lightly salted liquid and, when it returns to boil, reduce the heat and cook over very low heat, tightly covered, until tender.