Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cooking with beans and pulses

Nutrients in beans

Beans are seeds that grow inside pods.

After harvesting, beans are removed from the pod and dried, which accounts for their hardness.

The protein of beans is a nutritional complement to that of whole grains. Together they can provide all of the essential amino acids without resort to animal foods.

The major nutrients in beans are:
  • Fibre
  • B-vitamins (plus vitamin C if sprouted)
  • Minerals (especially iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus)
  • Proteins (in large quantity)
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
As a source of protein, the obvious advantages of beans over animal foods is their abundance of fibre, unsaturated fats and lack of harmful toxins.

Buying and storing beans

When shopping for beans, look for ones that are well-formed, uniform in size, smooth-skinned, and full and shiny in colour. Spots, flecks, wrinkles and pitting indicate that beans have lost their vitality. Fish-eyes are beans that are open at the seams; this indicates oxidation from drying too quickly. A batch of quality beans has no more than 1-2% broken skins and surface chips.

To test for sufficient dryness, bite into a bean. Properly dried beans will crackle and shatter. Improperly dried beans will show only a dent.

Beans must be stored in air-tight containers in a cool, dark place. Preserved in this way, they should retain their energy almost indefinitely.

Washing and soaking beans

Cooking time varies with dryness. The drier the bean, the longer it needs to be soaked and the more time is required on the stove.

Before cooking, pour the beans onto a plate and remove any stones or dirt. Then put them in a large pot, cover them with cold water, and swirl them round with your hand. The light dust will come out with the water during draining. Scooping the beans by hand or a slotted spoon into the strainer will leave any heavy residues at the bottom of the pot. Beans may need to be rinsed 2 or 3 times before they are clean.

Except for lentils, split peas and other light beans, most beans are hard and require soaking in order to improve their digestibility. Intestinal gas results from inadequate soaking of beans, cooking that is too short, insufficient chewing or over-eating.

To soak, put the beans in a pot, cover them with almost boiling water, and let them sit from several hours to overnight. If you are in a hurry or forget to soak them overnight, you can bring dried beans to the boil, drain the water, add cold water and bring them to the boil again. If you do this 2-3 times before leaving them to simmer, you can accelerate the soaking process. You can use the soaking water in the final dish.

If using beans from a can, it is likely that you will need to cook them some more before use as canned beans are rarely soft enough. This is particularly true of chickpeas and larger beans such as pinto beans. Aduki beans are usually fine straight from the can.

Cooking beans

Beans can be boiled, pressure-cooked or baked. The cooking time varies according to the size and nature of the bean, which in turn will be affected by climate, soil conditions, season, altitude etc. When boiling beans, add water to cover the beans plus at least two fingers depth of water on top. Adding a sea vegetable such as kombu to the cooking water will enhance the softness and digestibility of the beans. Season the beans with some salty seasoning at the end when cooked, then simmer for a further 5 to 10 minutes. Do not add salt at the beginning as this will make the beans contract and harden rather than expand and soften.

Small, soft beans, e.g., green lentils, red lentils, mung beans, split peas require little soaking and about 1 hour of cooking (45 minutes in a pressure cooker).

Medium beans, e.g., small, light aduki beans, pinto beans, navy beans , lima beans, turtle beans need to be soaked for 2-4 hours, then cooked for 2 hours (1 hour in a pressure cooker).

Hard beans, e.g., big, dark aduki beans, chick peas, black, white and yellow soybeans need to be soaked for 6-8 hours or overnight, then cooked for 4 hours (1.5-2 hours in a pressure cooker).

Soybeans especially, although they are extremely rich in protein and natural fats, can be indigestible unless thoroughly cooked. For this reason, throughout the long history of their use in the Far East, they have invariably been processed or fermented before use to allow for ready assimilation of their nutrients.

Aduki Bean and Squash Stew


  • 1 cup aduki beans (soaked overnight in plenty of boiling water)
  • 1 strip kombu
  • 2 onions (cut in half moons)
  • 1 small squash (cut in chunky style)
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Bay leaves
  • Spring onions (finely chopped)
  • Barley (mugi) miso to taste (approximately 1 dessertspoon)


  • Place the soaked aduki beans in a cooking pot, together with the kombu, and add hot water to cover. Simmer for an hour or more until completely tender and soft.
  • Heat a large cooking pot, add some oil, the onions and a pinch of sea salt. Sauté uncovered until soft and 
  • translucent.
  • Add the squash, bay leaves and the cooked beans and kombu. Simmer until the squash is soft.
  • Mix the barley (mugi) miso in a little water and add to taste.
  • Serve with a garnish of chopped spring onions.

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