What Are Legumes?
Legumes are a class of plants that include beans, peas, and lentils. Although fresh green beans and peas are technically legumes, the term usually refers to the dried versions, such as kidney, navy, and pinto beans. These dried beans and peas sit in the protein food group of the current American food guidance system, MyPlate.
Why Eat Legumes?
Legumes have many nutritional benefits. They are low in fat and high in dietary fiber and the B vitamin folate. Recent research supports their contribution to heart health by lowering cholesterol and contributing to lower blood pressure. Legumes are fairly high in complex carbohydrates and a good source of fiber. Complex carbohydrates slowly break down in the body, releasing glucose gradually. This makes them a good choice for people with diabetes.
The fiber content of dried beans is quite high compared to other foods. Current recommendations for adult daily intake are 25 grams per day for women who are 25 to 50 years old and 35 grams per day for men who are 25 to 50 years old. Adults over 50 have slightly lower recommended amounts. Cooked dried beans contribute 5 to 10 grams of fiber in a ½-cup serving, depending on the legume eaten. Dietary fiber is not digested but fills you up, making it a good addition to weight-loss diets.
Dried beans are found in many American ethnic dishes, from Boston baked beans to southern black-eyed peas. Current dietary recommendations are for Americans to eat 1½ cups of legumes each week.
Eating More Is Easy
Adding more legumes to your diet is easy if you keep them on hand. Dried beans that must be soaked and cooked require several hours of preparation time but are very cost effective and have a long shelf life. Most of these beans can also be found in the grocery store in cans, which makes adding kidney beans to chili or black beans to salsa very easy. Some legumes, such as peas, lima beans, and edamame (soybeans), are easily stored in your freezer. Cooked dried beans can also be frozen, enabling cooking ahead or dividing a pound of dried beans into several meals.
Soaking beans or rinsing canned beans can reduce some of the carbohydrates that cause unwanted gas or flatulence when eating legumes. These partially digested sugars and starches move to the large intestine where bacteria break them down and create gas. Taking Beano, a commercial dietary enzyme, can help, as can washing away liquid from canned beans. Cooking with certain herbs such as fennel, oregano, rosemary, and cilantro may also be helpful. The body adjusts in time to increased legume consumption.
Legume intake can be increased gradually by adding beans and peas to green salads and other combination foods. When combined with pasta or corn, all the amino acids found in animal protein are present, with less fat--a choice made by many vegetarians.
Hummus is a Middle Eastern food that has found favor in the United States and is often served with pita bread or fresh vegetable dippers. It can be flavored with roasted peppers, parsley, tahini, or hot peppers. Using a blender or food processor, it is very easy to prepare from canned beans.
Preparing Dry Beans
Most dried beans and peas need to be rehydrated before cooking. This can be done in several hours or overnight. Before soaking legumes, sort through the bag of dried beans and discard discolored or shriveled beans or any foreign matter. After soaking, discard water and rinse beans before cooking. One pound of dried beans yields 5-6 cups of cooked beans.
- Slow soak: In a stockpot, cover one pound of dried beans with 10 cups of water. Cover and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.
- Quick soak: In a stockpot, bring 10 cups of water to a boil. Add one pound of dried beans and return to boil. Boil 2-3 minutes. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.
Serving size: makes four 1-cup servings
- 1 15-oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas) drained, liquid reserved
- 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- Juice of 1 lemon (3 Tbsp)
- 1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Dash of cayenne or black pepper
- Parsley and olive oil, for garnish
- Add all ingredients into food processor or blender and blend until smooth. If too thick, add liquid from chickpeas or water. You may need to blend in batches so as not to overload the food processor or blender.
- Put into desired dish and garnish with olive oil and parsley, if desired.