Beans and legumes (lentils, chick peas, cannellini beans) are excellent sources of protein and fibre. Cooking dried beans can take some time, but soaking them first will dramatically reduce the cooking time. Soak them during the day leading up to an evening meal, or overnight to cook the next day. Lentils, split peas and mung beans do not need soaking prior to cooking, but any other pulse needs to be soaked. Soaking beans/legumes can ferment in hot weather, so if it is very warm, put the soaking beans in the fridge.
dried beans or legumes
Pick over and rinse the dried beans/legumes thoroughly to remove any stones or grit. Cover the washed beans/legumes with 4 times their volume of water (no salt) and leave to soak for at least 6–8 hours. Alternatively, do a ‘quick soak’ by bringing the beans/legumes and water to the boil and cooking for 1 minute, then covering and leaving to sit for 1 hour.
Drain the beans/legumes and put them in a large saucepan. Pour in fresh water – the rule of thumb is to use twice as much water as there are beans/ legumes, i.e. 1 cup beans to 2 cups water. Bring to the boil and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. If you wish, add a strip of kombu (a Japanese seaweed that aids digestion and speeds up cooking time). Skim off any foam that has collected at the top, then lower the heat and cover the pan.
Simmer for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so and adding a bit more water as needed. Do not add salt while soaking or cooking as it will toughen the beans/legumes. White beans such as cannellini beans might be ready after 1 hour, but larger beans/legumes such as chick peas will need more time.
When you think they might be cooked, cut a bean/legume in half – if the colour is consistent throughout, it is cooked, but if there is a lighter patch in the middle, it needs longer.
Cooking times and yields
French (puy) lentils
Green or brown lentils
1 ½ hours