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Why you’re going to love legumes
The case for beans
Legume basics
High on versatility

Nature lover’s lentil soup
Nature lover’s lentil soup

Makes 8 servings

4 cups dried lentils, washed
1 cup uncooked brown rice
5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
7 bay leaves
2 white onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 stalks celery, including the leaves, chopped
1–2 teaspoons garlic powder, to taste
16 cups (1 gallon) water

Put all the ingredients in a large soup pot. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium low. Allow to simmer for 1 hour, until the lentils are soft and the rice is tender. Serve hot with wedges of pita bread, hot brown bread or a crusty French bread.

From Natural Menu Cookbookby Jane Summerfield, ©1997. Avery Publishing Group, Inc., Garden City Park, New York. Reprinted with permission.

Quick quiz: A legume is …

  1. a seed pod that splits on two sides when ripe
  2. the best plant source of protein
  3. low in calories, high in fiber, low in sodium and saturated fat, and cholesterol free
  4. all of the above

You may be surprised to learn that the answer is “d”—all of the above. And if you’re trying to eat a healthful diet, that’s about the best news ever. Some of the legumes you may already know and love: soybeans, lentils, split peas, kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, peas, lima beans and chickpeas.

The case for beans

Legumes are among the world’s oldest crops and as such are a mainstay of many ethnic cuisines—Mexican, Italian, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern, to name a few. Eaten with grains, such as rice, bulgur, barley and pasta, legumes function as a complete protein and so can replace much or all of the animal protein in your diet. Besides being cheap, tasty and satisfying substitutes, they’re virtually fat free and totally cholesterol free.

But wait, there’s more. High in both soluble and insoluble fiber, legumes also are a good source of complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, zinc, potassium and magnesium. A cup of cooked legumes helps women meet about a quarter and men nearly half of their daily iron requirements. To help your body absorb the iron in legumes, eat them with a vitamin C–rich food, such as tomatoes or red peppers. Cooked beans are also calcium rich, supplying nearly as much of the mineral as a glass of milk.

Legume basics

Confused about how to add legumes to your diet? Here’s help.

  • When buying packaged legumes, look for uniform, bright-colored beans, peas and lentils. If you buy fresh peas or beans, again look for bright color, and don’t select any cracked or discolored pods. If you buy canned beans, drain and rinse them before adding to salads to reduce sodium.
  • Before preparing dried beans, peas or lentils, inspect them on a light-colored surface. Discard any dirt, debris or insects, then place in a strainer and rinse.
  • Soak beans in cold water overnight (lentils and split peas are thin and don’t require presoaking). Discard any beans that float.
  • To cook, place legumes in a pot with enough water or stock to cover by about two inches, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook legumes until their skin can be easily pierced. Add additional liquid as needed.

High on versatility

Known as “flavor sponges,” legumes pick up the identity of whatever foods and herbs they’re prepared with. That makes them ideal additions to soups, salads and stews and also means they can be enjoyed simply with your favorite herbs.

Or give legumes an ethnic flair. Prepare three-bean chili. Mash chickpeas, garlic and olive oil and spread on a pita. Enjoy lentils with brown rice and curry. Flavor white beans with garlic, rosemary and a touch of olive oil. And come back home with good old Boston baked beans!