Preparing and Cooking Beans and Lentils

Beans, which are part of the legume family, are easy to add to your vegetarian diet. You can use them in soup, vegetarian chili, salads; eat them hot or cold; and have them as a side dish, or as part of the main course. There and dozens of vegetarian bean recipes to choose from. But preparing and cooking beans correctly is key.

How to Prepare Beans and Lentils

Soaking before cooking beans

Most people believe that before cooking beans they have to be soaked for a minimum of eight hours to make them easy to digest. Others claim you don't have to soak them at all. (Lentils never have to be soaked.)

If you're like most people and find them hard to digest, your best bet is to soak beans overnight in the refrigerator before cooking them.

Another advantage: Soaking cuts the cooking time dramatically. If you don't have the time, or forget, there are other options.

Use canned beans. This is my number one preference. Canned beans are precooked so all you have to do is drain and rinse before you add them to your recipes.

Disadvantage: For the same price you get three times as much dried beans.

Boil dried beans for a few minutes and let sit for an hour. Add three times as much water as beans, and add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of dried beans. The baking soda softens the beans, and breaks down the oligosaccharides. (It's the oligosaccharides, a type of sugar molecule, that causes the flatulence.)

Bring to a boil for at least two minutes. Remove them from the heat and let them sit for an hour. Throw out the soaking water, and they're ready to cook or store. Cooked beans freeze well so make a large batch.

Disadvantage: This technique may cause beans to split or become slightly mushy.

Cooking Beans

Bring them to a gentle boil and simmer until the beans are soft. To keep them firm and unbroken stir gently and infrequently while cooking.

The amount of cooking time depends on the type of beans and how long they were soaked. The longer they soak, the less cooking time needed. In general, they can take between 45 minutes to an hour.

If you want to minimize the time you spend cooking beans you can use a Crock Pot or pressure cooker. This cuts the time by more than half, and you'll retain more of the nutrients. If you cook the beans for more than 1 and 1/4 hours about 35 percent of the B vitamins and 50 percent of the folic acid seep into the liquid, so use the cooking water as well.

When to Season Beans

Don't use salt or acidic seasonings, like wine, vinegar, or tomatoes, until the beans are cooked. If you do the beans will be tough and you'll have to cook them longer.

Most vegetarians consume a lot of legumes because of their health benefits and variety. Regardless of the legumes you choose, be sure to prepare and cook them correctly so that they're easy to digest.

Sources

Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Jack Norris, RD, Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, Vegan for Life

Michael Murray, N.D., The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods

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