Legumes are the fruits of podded plants, from beans, lentils and chickpeas to carob and even peanuts! They’re a fabulous shelf stable ingredient for the pantry, adaptable to breakfast, lunch, tea and even desert.
Why legumes are good for you (& the planet)
Legumes are tasty, inexpensive and nutritious, and they actually benefit the environment by naturally ‘fixing’ nitrogen in the earth for healthy, fertile soil.
Protein: Legumes are a very good source of plant protein, containing between 20 – 25 % protein by weight. For this reason they’re an important ingredient in vegetarian cuisine, particularly when combined with wholegrains to balance out the amino acids: think of traditional meals such as daal with rice, beans on tortillas or hummos with wholewheat pita bread.
Complex carbohydrates: Legumes have a low glycemic index, slowly releasing energy into the body and helping regulate blood sugar levels.
Nutrient dense: Legumes are a great source of fibre, B vitamins (most provide up to half the recommended daily intake of folate in a single serving), phytonutrients and minerals – most notably iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.
All this, and the little pods are (of course) cholesterol free and low in sodium and fat.
How to prepare legumes
Soaking whole dry pulses is essential for culinary and nutritional reasons. Soaking encourages even, complete cooking, helps break down hard-to-digest sugars (meaning less gas!), preserves nutrients and neutralises so-called anti-nutrients like phytic acid, which hinder the body’s assimilation of vital minerals.
1. Cover legumes with plenty of cool water.
2. Leave in a moderately temperate place for about 8 hours, or overnight- this depends on size so be judicious.
3. Drain legumes and rinse thoroughly.
4. To cook place legumes in a pot and cover with three times the volume of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender, skimming any scum that comes to the surface. This could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on what you’re cooking: small lentils cook very quickly whilst beans and chickpeas take much longer.
… before eating unfermented soy products. In Nourishing Traditions nutritional authority Sally Fallon recommends consuming fermented soy only (miso, tempeh, traditional soy sauce and tamari) as soybeans are very high in phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors.
… before eating out of a tin. Tinned legumes are a great convenience food but should be eaten sparingly as the processing denatures and diminishes their nutritional value. A better alternative is to prepare and cook large quantities of legumes then store portions in the freezer.