Types of Beans and Legumes

You've heard you should eat more beans and legumes, but you're not sure how. The more you learn about the types of beans and legumes, the easier it will be to add them to both main dishes and side dishes.

Know Your Beans and Legumes
The following is a list and short description of the many beans and legumes you may want to try eating:

Black Beans
Black beans are famous as the mainstay in black bean soup, a natural accompaniment to rice and a filling in burritos and other Latin food. They're available both canned and dried in most grocery stores.

Kidney Beans
Kidney beans come in a variety of colors: red, dark red and white. The red varieties are mealy, slightly sweet and are typically used in chili dishes and as fillers in soups. The white variety is milder and can become creamy when cooked well. This variety is used in Italian dishes.

Garbanzo Beans
These acorn-shaped, yellow legumes are used in soups and as the base for hummus, a popular Middle Eastern spread. They are also called chickpeas.

Lima Beans
Famous for their buttery flavor, these beans are large and can be either light green or cream-colored. They are served as a side dish, often cooked with bits of bacon for additional flavor.

Mung Beans
These tiny beans are commonly used in Asian dishes, often after they have sprouted. They come in several colors, such as green, black, brown and red. The red beans (also called Adzuki beans) are used to make bean paste, a sweet paste used in Asian pastries.

Black-Eyed Peas
Black-eyed peas are commonly used in Southern dishes and as side dishes.

Split Peas
This famous base for split pea soup (deliciously flavored with ham and onion) is available in yellow or green.

Lentils are tiny and do not need to be soaked before cooked. They come in different colors and have a nutty taste. They are best in stews and salads.

Health Benefits of Legumes and Beans
Beans and legumes are high in both fiber and protein and low in fat, making beans and legumes perfect staples for a healthy diet. The protein in legumes is incomplete, but, when combined with grains, they present a perfectly balanced protein, making beans and grains dishes ideal food for vegans and vegetarians.

Buying and Storing Beans and Legumes
While dried beans and legumes have a shelf life of a year, they do get drier, less flavorful and tougher as time passes, so an older sack of beans will require more soaking and longer cook times. They will taste less flavorful than a fresh bag of dried lentils. Look for bags without dust on them that look like they've been recently stocked in the store.

Some of these beans and legumes are tough to find and won't be in your local grocery store. Try a whole foods store or a co-op for the less common legumes, beans and grains.

Cooking Beans and Legumes
You can find many of these beans and legumes canned, ready to be added into dishes or heated up and served as a side dish. Canned beans don't need to be soaked; just rinse them before you cook them. Some brands use more salt than others, so pay attention to which brands deliver the flavor you most prefer.

Dried beans and legumes should be rinsed, combed for stones or debris, and then soaked in cold water for anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. You'll want to add enough water to allow the beans to expand to double in size.

If you wish to speed the soaking process, heat a pan of beans or legumes in water to boiling, let them boil for two to three minutes, take them off the heat and then soak them for an hour in the water. While this quick method works well, it may result in beans that break apart, so you'll need to decide if you want to keep all the beans whole or if you're fine with a few broken-up beans.

When cooking beans and legumes, you'll need to consult a cookbook or the package for specific cooking times and techniques since different legumes require different cooking times. Taste the beans to see if they are sufficiently cooked because the range of time needed to cook them properly will vary due to the age of the product.

In general, you'll probably end up cooking beans and legumes in water or some sort of broth or liquid. If you have hard water, add a bit of baking soda to the water to soften the beans. Don't add too much salt early on in the cooking process, or you'll toughen up the skins. Once cooked, you can keep beans in the refrigerator for four to five days.

Practical Suggestions for Adding More Beans and Legumes in Your Diet
Try the classic red beans and rice seasoned with sausage, or whip up a pot of split pea soup complete with ham, carrot slices and bay leaf. You can add beans and legumes to almost any soup or chili recipe. Beans are the perfect accompaniment to Mexican fare and work well in burritos, tacos and enchiladas. Cold bean salads are refreshing in the summer; a side of butter beans will complement any Southern dish you can imagine. Try cooking up a side of Brunswick stew or baked beans to go with your barbequed ribs.

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