Legumes are an important part of a daily diet because of their nutritional and health benefits. They are a good dietary source of protein, rich in soluble fiber, which can help to manage cholesterol levels and help in the control of blood sugar.
Legumes are rich in folate, are very low in saturated fatty acids, sodium, and contain many phytonutrients to support a healthy immune system. Consuming a minimum of a ½ cup per day of legumes has been shown to increase the overall fiber, protein, folate, zinc, iron, and magnesium intake and decreased saturated and total fat intake.
They’re also inexpensive, easy to store and prepare, and range in color, taste, and texture, from tiny green lentils to heftier lima beans. Although they can be bought dried or canned, we encourage you to prepare beans and lentils from scratch when you can. Not only is it much cheaper, but the flavor and freshness are worth the time.
A fully-stocked legume pantry may include:
Lentils – A staple in European, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cuisines, cheap and hearty lentils cook quickly and don’t need any soaking. They are a pantry go-to for iron, folate, and vitamin B. They are also probably one of the oldest domesticated crops in the world. Lentils come in an autumnal rainbow of brown, green, yellow, orange, black, and white varieties, but their nutritional value is the same. They are all good for you. Try brown lentils in our Brown Lentil and Rice Soup with carrots or green lentils in our Lentil Shepherd’s Pie.
Split Peas – Split peas are speedy to cook and, like lentils, don’t need soaking before use. This protein-packed legume is a good source of trace minerals such as copper and zinc. Split peas come in green and yellow varieties. Green is commonly used in northern climates to make quick and nourishing soups, and the yellow varieties are a staple in Indian and Mediterranean cooking.
Black-Eyed Peas – Black-eyed peas are low in fat and rich in folate and magnesium. They can be used in soups, salads, and curries, and Hoppin’ John is a well-known New Year’s staple in the American south.
Kidney Beans – Cabernet colored kidney beans, a source of vitamin K and folate, are a satisfying and mild-tasting bean that can be served hot or cold, in salads, stews, curries, chilies, and soups. They absorb flavors easily and go well with most vegetables and fish. Kidney beans are toxic when raw. They must always be soaked and properly cooked before eating. Use them as an alternative for white beans in our Winter White Minestrone Soup.
Garbanzo Beans – Also known as chickpeas, garbanzos are a good source of potassium. They are the main ingredient in many healthy Mediterranean recipes and are the star ingredient in foods such as hummus and falafel. Served hot, cold, or sprouted, they have a delicious nutty taste and satisfying consistency. Try them in our Moroccan Style Chickpea and Chard Stew.
Black Beans – A consistent element in Southwestern and Mexican cooking, black beans make wonderful soups and chilies. We recommend our delicious Black Bean Chili for a quick and easy recipe that’s easy on the stomach. Garnish the chili with cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice and serve over a bed of brown rice. To prepare black beans from scratch, try our Basic Black Bean recipe.
Cannellini Beans – An Italian favorite, this mild-tasting bean is rich in manganese and a good source of calcium. To prepare from scratch, use our Basic White Bean recipe. Cannellini beans are excellent for wintertime soups such as our Collard Greens and White Bean Soup, and also delicious slightly mashed with rosemary as a side dish. They are also great as an appetizer, heated through in our Quick Tomato Sauce, or on a cool summer salad tossed with herbs and tuna.
Dried beans tend to harden as they age and can take longer to cook, so it’s a good idea to use them within a year of purchasing.
When you’re not able to cook beans from scratch, canned legumes are a great substitute, with one caveat: canned beans and lentils can be very high in salt. When you shop, look for low-sodium brands, but even most of these have more salt per serving than is healthy.
As a precaution, all canned legumes should be rinsed under cold running water until the water runs clear and all the bubbles are gone before eating to remove the extra sodium.
You can then add taste to your legumes with your own selection of fresh herbs and spices.