Legumes are a group of vegetables that encompasses peas, lentils and beans. There are many different types and sizes of legumes such as: black beans, kidney beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans (chick peas), adzuki beans, black eyed beans, pinto beans, lentils, split peas, lima beans – to name a few.
They are a healthy and versatile choice of protein – great for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Legumes are low in fat, do not contain cholesterol, and contain many healthy and important nutrients such as fiber, iron, folic acid, B vitamins, zinc, copper, potassium and magnesium. They are also gluten free.
Another benefit of legumes is that they are low glycemic – which means they digest slowly and do not cause the body’s blood sugar to spike.
The versatility of legumes is absolutely astounding! They can be used in soups, stews, quinoa dishes, casseroles, desserts (yes, you read it correctly!), quiches, omelettes, tacos and burritos, salads and pasta dishes.
Legumes are readily available in dried form, or in cans (ready to use). If you are using dried legumes – most need to be soaked overnight before cooking. Note that split peas and lentils do not need to be soaked. When using canned legumes be sure to drain them and rinse them thoroughly before using them.
When using dried legumes – there are several steps you need to take to prepare them:
- Sort through the dried legumes carefully to discard any broken beans and to make sure there are no impurities (small stones, etc)
- Make sure they are clean – rinse the dried legumes thoroughly before soaking
- A general rule of thumb for soaking is: for each cup of dried legumes use 3 cups of water; let them stand at room temperature for 12 hours
- In a time crunch? For a shorter soaking time: bring dried beans and water to a boil slowly; boil gently for 2 – 3 minutes; remove from the heat source & let stand for 1 – 4 hours (time varies with each type of bean)
- Before cooking: discard the soaking water, rinse the legumes and add fresh water for cooking (3 cups of water for every 1 cup soaked legumes); Simmer for 1½ to 2½ hours or until tender.
- Cooking time varies with each legume – depending on the size of the legume, the temperature and hardness of the cooking water. Smaller legumes might take anywhere from ¾ hour to 1¼ hours; medium size beans could take from 1 to 1½ hours; larger beans might take from 1½ to 2½ hours.
Strategies for digesting legumes
Many people avoid using legumes because they could be hard to digest, cause excessive gas or intestinal problems. The Institute for Integrative Nutrition has a few strategies to help:
- Soak beans for several days, changing the water twice daily, until they form small tails.
- Use a pressure cooker. This also cuts down cooking time.
- Chew beans thoroughly and know that even small amounts have high nutritional and healing value.
- Avoid feeding legumes to children under 18 months. They have not yet developed the gastric enzymes to digest them properly.
- Adding fennel or cumin near the end of cooking helps prevent gas.
- Adding kombu or kelp seaweed to the beans helps improve flavor and digestion, adds minerals and nutrients, and speeds up the cooking process.
- Take enzymes with your meal.
Black beans, also known as turtle beans, are one of my favorite legumes. They are medium sized beans, and add a color variation to many dishes. I find them more versatile than some of the other legumes. They are often used in Latin American dishes, soups, stews, rice dishes, quinoa dishes, and in brownies.
If you have been hesitating when it comes to using legumes – now is a great time to try something new, such as a new recipe! You might even find a new favourite. Pick a legume, use the tips noted above and enjoy!
Do you need support to make a transition in your dietary lifestyle to gluten free, or dairy free, or low glycemic? I’d be happy to help! Contact me.
Copyright © 2013 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved