I have decided to add a new section to the site under Food for Cooking Tips. I am not a professional chef by any means, nor do I claim to be an expert on nutrition. But I do cook food from scratch, exclusively, and have been for several years.
It seems these days that we are always searching for ways to save money and improve our health. Dried pulses (pulses is the name for the family of dried beans and lentils) are a great way to do this. Most people know the benefits of pulses as a source of low fat, digestible protien. I know that most people are intimidated by cooking with dried pulses because to a newbie, it make seem a bit complex compared to opening a can but it is really easy with these simple tips.
Dried vs. Canned
So I’m sure you are wondering why bother with dried pulses when they are readily available in canned form? Read the list below and see if you are convinced.
- Less Expensive — Dried pulses are much less expensive than the canned equivalent. Not only are they cheaper per volume (especially if you buy in bulk) but when cooked, dried pulses will increase from 2.5-4 times the volume
- No Salt — Almost canned beans have added sodium but when you cook from dried you can control the sodium. If you add sodium at all you only want to do it after the beans are cooked because salt slows the cooking process.
- Better Taste — Cooking from dried will give you a firmer bean (not mushy like canned) and much more flavor.
- Higher in Nutrients – Dried contains higher nutrients than the canned, especially if you soak them the long method which retains more nutrients during cooking.
- More Variety — If you have ever been to an Indian market you will see how large the variety of dried pulses are compared to canned. With lentils alone there are at least 10 different options.
- Less Space — Dried pulses take up less space in your pantry per volume than canned.
- No Chemical Risk — Canned beans are lined with plastic which can eek into the beans to some degree and even worse, cans with a visible seam can contain lead which will taint the contents.
- Sustainable — Dried pulses use less packaging which saves energy to package and recycle, making them a good choice for a sustainable food source.
De-Mystifying the Cooking Process
- Soak beforehand — Beans usually require about 8 hours of soaking time but all you have to do is put them in a bowl or pot and cover with water — easy peasy. Dried peas often need less time, 3-4 hours and lentils only need 30 – 45 minutes.
- Drain and rinse — Always drain off the water you soaked the pulses in and rinse with clean water. During soaking, the beans release a substance what causes intestinal gas so by draining the water you are reducing this gaseous effect.
- Boil until just tender — At this point the only thing I add to the beans is a pinch of Asafoetida which will further reduce the gaseous effect of beans. It can be purchases at Indian markets or online through spice stores.I fill the pot with water an inch above the beans and bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer.
- Drain and season — When the beans are tender enough to bite into, I remove them from the heat and drain them. Depending on what I am going to make with them, I may want to use the bean water in the recipe. A great way to season the beans is to saute some onions and garlic in a little olive oil with the spices you like and then add the beans to the pan after the onions have gotten glassy. Then add the bean water until you get to the consistency you want.
- Ethnic Markets — Check out the ethinic markets in your area for a source of dried pulses at the best prices — Indian, Latin, Carribean and Asian markets all carry dried pulses and usually the prices are much cheaper than super markets.
- Soak in the morning — If you are like me and your brain seems to turn off after you get the kids in bed, then trying to remember to soak beans the night before is near impossible. But it is not necessary to soak more than 8 hours for even the biggest bean so if morning is better, just soak the beans then and they will be ready to cook by dinner.
- Pressure Cooking — If you don’t have the patience for soaking and cooking dried pulses, or if you just want a faster way, then pressure cooking is the way to go. With pressure cooking, dried beans are just as convenient as canned.
- Asafoetida really works — I have always loved beans but they give me intense gas. When I discovered this herb it has made all the difference. Be prepared, it smells awful. It was described in this one Indian book as “smelling like a fart but helping you not smell like one” and it is true.
- Cook double, freeze half — Pulses freeze and reheat really well so to make it easier, I always cook twice more than I need and freeze half
As a mom of two very hungry growing kids, I cook with dried pulses a few times a week. Here are some of the recipes I’ve posted that use dried pulses:
…More to come!