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Loving Legumes for all the Right Reasons: Health, Flavor and Value

Sharon Palmer

From the pinto beans of Mexico to the chick peas of the Middle East, legumes have been an important staple in many cultures for centuries. It’s no wonder, because legumes—a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils—are as near to a “perfect food” that you can find. A one-half cup portion of legumes, on average, contains at least 20% DV (Daily Value, requirement based on a 2,000 calorie diet) for fiber, folate and manganese; 10% DV for protein, potassium, iron, magnesium and copper; and 6-8% DV for selenium and zinc. Factor in that beans are economical, easy to store for long periods, and suit a number of cooking styles, and it’s easy to see why they have been such staple fare for years. And modern science reveals even more reasons to love legumes: They have been linked with lower blood cholesterol levels, lower body weight, higher intake of dietary fiber, and lower rates of heart disease, hypertension, some types of cancer and diabetes. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that you eat at least three cups of legumes each week. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and dig into legumes with the following helpful hints.

Tips to Introduce Legumes into Your Kitchen

1. Stock your pantry with canned beans for a quick addition to a menu.

2. Bring home a bag of dried legumes to cook in chili, stews or casseroles.

3. Toss garbanzo or kidney beans into salads for an earthy, nutritious addition.

4. Serve edamame as a healthy, delicious appetizer.

5. Include humus as a yummy spread on crackers and bread.

6. Start your meal with a hearty bean or split pea soup—or have it as a main course.

7. Make a French lentil salad by tossing cooked lentils with vinaigrette dressing.

8. Substitute beans for potatoes as a side dish once a week.

9. Stir cooked red beans or peas into rice for a zesty Caribbean dish.

10. Stir black beans into salsa for a tasty dip.

11. Try beans for breakfast with eggs and tortillas.

12. Cook up a thick, Tuscan-style white bean casserole.

13. Sprinkle cooked beans into wraps for a quick lunch.

14. Put Southern black-eyed peas with greens on your dinner menu.

15. Use baked beans as an accompaniment to your favorite meats.

16. Try an Italian classic: pasta tossed with cooked navy beans and tomatoes.

17. Check out for a collection of delicious legume recipes.

Cooking up Dried Legumes

It’s easier than you think, with these tips:

1. Rinse and drain dried legumes.

2. Sort and discard damaged legumes or foreign material.

3. Use one of two methods to rehydrate:

Quick Hot Soak—Cover dried legumes with water and boil for two minutes. Cover pot and soak for one to four hours. Discard soaking water, cover with fresh water and cook.

Overnight Cold Soak—Cover dried legumes with water and soak overnight (12 hours or more.) Discard soaking water, cover with fresh water and cook.

4. One pound of dried legumes yields about six cups cooked.

Legume Guide

Adzuki BeansRice, Asian dishes
Anasazi BeansRefried beans, Southwestern dishes
Black BeansMexican and South American dishes, soups, stews
Black-eyed PeasSouthern dishes, casseroles, curries
Cannellini BeansItalian soups, stews, side dishes
Chickpeas (Garbanzos)Hummus, soups, stews, Indian dishes
Cranberry BeanSoups, stews, side dishes
Edamame (Green Soybeans)Appetizers, salads, casseroles, soups, side dishes
Fava BeansSide dishes, stews
Great Northern BeansSoups, casseroles, side dishes
Kidney BeansSalads, stews, chili, side dishes
LentilsSoups, stews, salads, Indian dishes
Lima BeansSuccotash, salads, casseroles, soups
Navy Beans (White Beans)Soups, stews, side dishes
Pink BeansSoups, stews, chili, side dishes
Pinto BeansRefried beans, bean dip, with rice
Red Bean, smallSoups, salads, chili, Creole dishes
Soy BeansStews, soups
Split PeasSoups, stews, casseroles


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