Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reader Question: Legumes

One reader asked about lentils,

"When your recipe says "lentils", that's a bean, right? ... Any suggestions for starting out eating beans. I don't like refried beans, too earthy and grainy, but I am willing to try anything open minded."

I thinks she's come to the right place, because I love beans and lentils!! Beans, lentils, and peas are from the same family, the legume family. So lentils are cousins with beans. Lentils come in different colors, but so far I've stuck with the hearty organic green and brown lentils, which should be easily found in the supermarket. I like to store in tightly sealed glass mason jars. When my recipes call for lentils, these are the guys I'm talking about:

Lentils are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and are a good carrier for almost any flavor. This chart from World's Healthiest Foods shows the nutritional breakdown of lentils:


Tips for adding more beans into the diet

I think I probably need a self-help group for taking beans out of my diet! I tend to use beans as an addition to meals, whereas lentils are usually more of a main player (see recipes below). I like to spontaneously add them to any kind of soup, rice, omelette or scrambled egg dish, or scattered on top of salads. There's also a black bean brownie recipe I am dying to try...maybe this weekend. I'm feeling motivated!

You can buy canned beans or dried beans. I prefer to buy dried beans, and soak and cook them myself. You can freeze any extras, too, so you'll have some on hand for busy nights! I'll do a post soon on exactly how that works. For now, here's a quick reference for amount conversions:

* 1 lb dry beans = 2 1/2 cups dry beans = about 7 1/2 cups cooked beans
* 1 cup dry beans = about 3 cups cooked beans
* 14 oz/398 ml can beans = about 1 1/2 cups drained beans
* 19 oz/540 ml can beans = about 2 cups drained beans

As for varieties of beans, I think experimentation is best to figure out which kinds are your favorite! We generally use white, kidney, pink, and black around here, but I'd like to include some pinto and anasazi too.

Here are a few of my lentil and bean recipes. Almost all of them are gluten-free as well. I recommend starting with some soups, as the legumes are not always in the spotlight there, but are often sharing with another flavor.

Soups and Stews
Chili - whatever beans you'd like!
Mexican Soup - black beans
Minestrone Soup - kidney beans
Chickpea Millet Stew - Garbanzo beans
Coconut Curried Lentil Soup - brown or green lentils
Lentil Soup - made with green or brown lentils
Sauerkraut Sausage Soup - white beans

Other recipes for a bit more bite:
Lentil Pecan Patties - made with green or brown lentils
Hummus - made with Garbanzo beans
Falafel - Garbanzo beans
Dosas - Lentils and rice, also known as Indian pancakes
Fermented bean paste - black beans; great with Mexican food!
Black Bean Burgers - black beans!

Anyone else have favorite bean recipes?!


  1. Thank you so much!!! Now that I have read your post and seen your pics, I think I've had french green lentils, not beans. They were pretty good. I am going to look thru your suggested recipies and work them in to our meals. Is there a difference when you would use "beans" and when you would use "lentils"?


  2. I use both beans and lentils as main ingredients in some dishes. However, the biggest difference is that I will just throw a handful of beans into a dish or soup, whereas I don't do that with lentils. I tend to use beans more with Mexican or Italian style dishes (oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary, chili pepper etc.), and lentils stand on their own a bit more, or are a good addition, in my opinion, to Indian dishes, using cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, mustard seeds, fenugreek, black pepper, nutmeg, or just a general curry spice! Hope that helps!!