Beans are a valuable food for vegetarians because they contain protein. They are also able to be dried and stored for long periods of time without harm, and then reconstituted simply by soaking and cooking. Many varieties of bean are only used in this way. Others are eaten fresh and steamed or boiled before use, needing much less preparation.
Dried legumes are almost always improved by soaking. Soaking helps to draw out lectins and phytates in legumes, as well as activating enzymes that break down indigestible starches and sugars. These starches and sugars are responsible for flatulence, as they ferment in your gut to produce gas. Additionally, soaking improves the flavour and nutrition of dried legumes.
Soaking and simmering with repeated water changes is a good method for facilitating the enzyme activation and lectin and phytate extraction. Start by soaking the beans overnight in the refrigerator. Change the water, simmer for an hour, change the water, simmer for another hour, change the water... for a total of 4 to 6 hours.
Alternatively, soaking at room temperature or above (20-30°C / 68-86°F) for at least eight hours, or 14 hours for soybeans and red kidney beans, will achieve most of the same results and allow for significantly reduced cooking time. Always discard the soak water, and cook in fresh water. The soak water is full of nutrients, however, making it valuable food for plants.
The problem of flatulence is much more objectionable when beans (causing gas volume) are combined with a sulphur source (causing a strong smell). Sulphur sources include egg yolks and pale dried fruit.
Peas (including black-eye peas and chickpeas) are also members of the legume family, but they do not contain the indigestible sugars and starches that cause flatulence. They still do benefit from soaking, however, as this activates enzymes and improves the flavour and available nutrition of all legumes.
In regions where dried beans are uncommon, available stocks of dried beans will in all likelihood be quite old. These beans are perfectly edible, but may require drastically increased soaking and/or cooking times to become palatable and to acquire a proper texture. In any event, the cooking time of beans may be substantially shortened if one to two teaspoons of baking soda is mixed into the beans' soaking water. The beans should be rinsed afterwards.
They can be used in a wide variety of ways, including
- Soups, such as mulligatawny and split pea soup
- Indian dal
- Bean salad
- Breads including idli and dosa
- Fermented into products such as soy sauce, miso, tempeh, and natto. See soy.
- They are frequently added to rasam
Varieties of Beans
Please see the individual listings for more information about each variety.
- azuki bean
- bean sprout
- black bean
- black-eyed pea
- borlotti bean
- chickpea (aka garbanzo bean, ceci bean, chana)
- fava bean (aka ful or broadbean)
- green bean
- kidney bean
- lablab (aka hyacinth bean)
- lima bean (aka butter bean)
- mung bean
- navy bean
- Pigeon Pea
- pinto bean
- runner bean
- urad bean (aka black gram, white lentil)