What is a legume? Well, besides a fun word to say, it describes a class of vegetable that includes beans, peas, and lentils — also known as some of my favorite foods. Not only are these little pieces of heaven healthy, they are also versatile and nutritious. They are typically low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and high in the good stuff like folate, potassium, iron, and protein. They also contain the good-for-you fats and fiber (come on, we all know the song…”Beans, beans, the magical fruit…the more you eat…well, you know the rest).
Many grocery stores and supermarkets carry a wide variety of both dried and canned beans and I know that the choices can be overwhelming. There are over 25 different kinds of legumes so below I have outlined several of the more common types and their uses*:
|Type of Legume||Common Use|
|Also known as azuki beans, field peas, and red oriental beans. These beans are typically found in rice dishes and Japanese or Chinese cuisine.|
|These beans are also known as Jacob’s cattle beans. They are typically used in refried beans and Southwestern recipes.|
|The beans are sometimes referred to as turtle beans, black Spanish beans, and Venezuelan beans. This type of bean is one of the most common and can be found in soups, stews, rice dishes, Mexican dishes, and Central and South American dishes.|
|Cowpeas, Cherry Beans, Frijoles, China peas, or Indian peas…call them what you like. They can most often be found in salad, casseroles, fritters, bean cakes, curry dishes, and Southern dishes.|
|Chick peas, or Garbanzo Beans, can be found in casseroles, hummus, minestrone soup, Spanish stews, and Indian dishes.|
|Edamame, or soybeans, can be found served as a side dish, appetizer, or snack. This legume can be used to create salads, soups, casseroles, rice dishes, and pasta dishes.|
|Also known as broad beans, faba beans, and horse beans, these beans can be found in stews and side dishes.|
|Lentils are most commonly used in soups, stews, salads, side dishes, and Indian dishes.|
|Lima Beans, or Butter Bean, are typically used in succotash, casseroles, soups, and salads.|
|These types of beans are most commonly used in stews, chili, mixed bean salad, and Cajun bean dishes.|
Keep dried legumes in the unopened bag in a cool, dry, and dark location. Once the bag is opened, transfer the unused beans into an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark location. If storing canned legumes, make sure the can is not damaged and store in a cool, dry, and dark location. Once the can has been opened, drain and rinse the legumes, place in an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator.
When it comes to preparing legumes, different steps must be taken when working with dried versus canned. In order to prepare canned legumes, be sure to drain and rinse the beans thoroughly before adding to a pot or a dish. When preparing dried legumes, pick through the beans to make sure you discard of shriveled or discolored beans. Next, following one of the processes outlined below in order to soak the legumes to rehydrate them for even cooking.
- Slow Soak: Cover 1 pound dried beans with 10 cups water, cover, and refrigerate overnight (recommended with chick peas).
- Hot Soak: Bring 10 cups of water to a boil, add 1 pound of dried beans, and return water to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside in room temperature for 2-3 hours.
- Quick Soak: Bring 10 cups of water to a boil, add 1 pound of beans, and return to a boil. Boil 2-3 minutes, cover, and set aside for 1 hour in room temperature.
Once the dried beans have been soaked, rinse the beans, and add them into a pot. Add twice as much water as beans and boil uncovered for 10 minutes. Next, skim any foam off the top of the water, cover, lower heat, and simmer for an hour. Stir in salt (or any other spices) and cook until the beans are tender. Be sure to cook the beans until they easily mash between two fingers or a with fork.
What is your favorite type of legume?
* Photos and information found in the table are courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.