Beans & Lentils
Legumes are typically low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. A good source of protein and fibre, legumes are a healthy addition to any meal.
Flavour: Delicate grassy flavour and texture ranges from tender to floury. Use in: Dried are best in dishes that need slow cooking like lamb stews, or cooked and pulsed with spices to make dips. Fresh broad beans make great salads with mint, peas and artichokes or feta.
Flavour: Creamy smooth with full, savoury flavour. Use in: Widely used in South American and Asian cooking, black beans are delicious in stir-frys with pork, soy, ginger and chilli. Also great with rice, they love garlic, onion, chili and fresh coriander. Season with cayenne, salt or red wine vinegar.
Flavour: Tender, and floury with a delicate flavour. Use in: Best known as the baked bean, serve in a tasty home-made tomato sauce flavoured with celery, onion and sage. Great in hearty pasta and bean soups like Minestrone and pasta e fagoli with toasted crusty bread.
Flavour: Sweet, earthy flavour and soft comforting texture. Use in: Stews and soups to thicken and add texture. Make an Indian dahl with red lentils, turmeric, cumin, chili, garlic, butter and good stock. Combine cooked lentils, leftover veg, seasoning and beaten egg to make vegi-burgers.
Flavour: Mealy texture and mild mushroomy flavour. Use in: They hold their shape and absorb flavours well. Make a salad with feta cheese, beetroot, red wine vinegar, olive oil and lots of chopped herbs. Or serve warm stirred through fried lardons of bacon or pancetta.
Flavour: Mild nutty flavour and smooth texture – these cream and pink speckled beauties turn a shade of taupe when cooked. Use in: Italian cooking, tomato-based sauces with sausage and in salads with tuna, onion, red pepper parsley and balsamic dressing.
Flavour: Savoury, nutty flavour and firm texture. Use in: Indian dishes in place of meat. Blitz with tahini, garlic, lemon and olive oil to make hummus. Sauté red pepper, onion, chorizo; add a tin of chickpeas and tomatoes, cook for 30 mins, season and serve with rice or crusty bread.
Flavour: Delicious peppery flavour and blue-green colour make them the most prized lentils. Use in: Pork, sausage and bacon dishes. Sauté a mix of finely chopped celery, carrot and onion, add the lentils, cover in ham stock and cook. Season with black pepper and parsley; serve with good sausages or duck confit.
Flavour: Soft creamy texture with deep, full flavour. Toxic until cooked. Use in: Chillies and stews with or without meat. Also use in Mexican salads with chopped avocado, spring onion, celery, sweetcorn, fresh chilli, lime and light vegetable oil.
Buying & storing
Dried beans and pulses kept for over a year will take longer to cook. Most, except lentils, require soaking overnight. Some are toxic if not boiled properly. Never add salt to the cooking water as it toughens the skins and prevents them becoming tender. Add seasoning after you have drained them. Bicarbonate will speed up the cooking and tenderise dried beans and chickpeas.
Dried Vs Canned
While dried beans and pulses are cheaper and involve less packaging and waste, you need to plan ahead if they require an overnight soaking before cooking. Nutritionally there is very little difference however canned varieties, while more convenient, often contain higher levels of salt – it’s worth trying different brands to compare flavours. The texture of dried, soaked and cooked is known to be a little firmer and the flavour more pronounced.