What are Legumes? Not Sexy, But Delish

Legumes are healthy for your food budget, high in fiber, lower cholesterol, and most are low in fat.

So why aren’t you eating more of them?

Legumes—the plant group which includes beans, peas and lentils—also contain more protein than any other plant food. Even though they have formed an integral part of the cuisine of many cultures, often we Americans don’t know what to do with them.

Legumes are usually found in two different forms: canned and dried. Canned versions can be very useful as they require no pre-cooking. This is especially helpful if you are short on time when preparing dinner. The downside is that the quality can sometimes be lacking and there is less variety available. Dried beans, peas, and lentils are very inexpensive and come in a bewildering assortment of varieties. They do require a bit of time to prepare. Most varieties need to be soaked and then cooked before they can be used. You can do this preparation in advance by cooking a large pot of beans and then bagging them in 1-cup amounts and freezing them. (1 pound of dried beans cooks up to = 3 ½ cans of cooked beans.)

Here is primer of some of them main types of legumes and some ideas about what to do with them.

Lentils – These are a thin-skinned legume, which along with split peas, do not need to be soaked in advance. They come in a rainbow of colors as well as the more commonly seen brown. Lentils are good in soups and salads and can also be used as a side dish to accompany chicken or beef.

Chickpeas – Also called garbanzo beans, these very hard legumes take a long time to cook, but are well worth the effort. If you are buying dried chickpeas, be sure they do not look shriveled. Often associated with Middle Eastern foods such as hummus and falafel, chick peas can also be used in pasta dishes, salads, and soups.

Beans – Beans come in a wide variety of sizes and colors and tastes. All varieties need to be soaked and cooked before using, with the cooking time depending on the variety of bean. They range from cranberry beans found in Italian pastas and salads to small flageolets seasoned with buttery sauces in France to Great Northern beans used in traditional Boston baked beans.

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