You bought your beans and lentils- Now What?

By Merrie Martin

Are you unsure what to do with your beans, tofu, chickpeas and lentils? If so, you have come to the right place. This article addresses the health benefits of these pulses, the options when purchasing them and how to prepare them in your meals and snacks.

We are all told that beans are ‘healthy’ but what does this really mean? The pulses include the well known black and kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils, but there are other options that share some nutrient content, benefits to health and use in recipes, such as fava beans, dried yellow/green peas, soybeans and lupins. All those examples of pulses (or legumes) are not only protein packed, but also rich in vitamins and minerals. Pulses are a good source of iron, fibre, dietary fiber, B vitamins, E vitamins, zinc, antioxidants and folate. These nutrient-dense beans are a wonderful addition into your diet for an inexpensive price. Furthermore, they make a great meat alternative in many dishes.

Pulses can also assist in reducing risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. But How? Research is showing that beans may help lower LDL cholesterol and the high fiber content in the pulse reduces the risk of such diseases. Pulses can also stabilize blood glucose levels and because of their fibrous properties, can help reduce risk of developing type two diabetes. The American Institute of Cancer Research also highlights their regular consumption to decrease the risk of cancer.

The choice of beans or lentils will depend on your own likes, your tolerability to different pulses options and the dish you want to prepare. For example, there are different types of lentils: brown, green, yellow, red… the brown lentils usually have a stronger flavour and they are great to eat in salads as they hold their shape. Red lentils come split and when you cook them they break down, making them a great option for soups and stews. Some traditional dishes call for a specific type of pulses, for example mexican cuisine uses a lot of black beans, or hummus is usually prepared with chickpeas. If you feel comfortable, you can always substitute with the option that you like the most. 
So now you know about the amazing benefits one could gain, you may be wondering, okay, now what? How do I prepare them and cook them to incorporate into my diet? First off, let's start off at the grocery store. There are two main choices when choosing your legumes at the store: canned or dried.

Dried beans
When buying dried, you may want to rinse your pulses, as sometimes they may have some dust, loose parts or little rocks. If you have time and remember about it, soaking them overnight can make pulses easier to digest. A quick soak is also an option, just remember to throw away the water after the soak, and use fresh water to cook them. This technique and using some herbs (bay leaf, epazote) to cook them seems to help with gas production. You can put them in a pot, add water enough to cover them and bring to a boil. Once it starts boiling, reduce and simmer until they are tender. Depending on the pulse you are using is the length it will take to cook them- approx. 45 min to 1h for black beans and chickpeas, and around 25 min for lentils (less if they are split). One more option is to use an instant pot or a slow cooker- times may vary.

Canned beans
On the other hand, canned beans are ready to use and just need to be warmed up and seasoned to your taste, but may be less cost effective and use more of the space in your kitchen. Some things to be aware of when buying canned beans are added sugar or added salt. You can read the label and choose the options with no sugar or salt added. When you open the canned beans, it is a good idea to strain them and rinse them under running water for a few seconds, this will eliminate the remaining salt they may have.

Now that you have your selected pulses there are many options to consume them.

Here are 12 ideas for some inspiration that are super easy and quick:

  1. Throw them into your salad, for example a kale salad with black beans
  2. Spread them onto sandwiches: if you have leftover hummus, you can use it instead of mayo or butter.
  3. Add them into soups: have you seen our butternut squash & lentil soup recipe?
  4. Try roasting them and eating them as a snack: choose the pulse you prefer and add olive oil, garlic and paprika (or the herb/spice you like!)
  5. Add some into your pasta: have you tried lentils in a bolognese sauce? pasta salad with chickpeas or white beans is also tasty and can be a complete meal that you put together quickly!.
  6. Incorporate roasted beans into your trail mix
  7. Check out this really tasty and healthy homemade crackers
  8. Have black beans on your tacos!
  9. Eat more Chili.
  10. Prepare a big batch of falafel and save some in your freezer
  11. Have more bean based burger patties
  12. Eat beans in dips (like white bean dip!)