Legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas are a wonderful source of protein, particularly for plant-based diets. They’re also full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. They’re versatile as well - they can be added to soups, stews, grains, salads, and dips, etc., which means it’s nice to have them on hand when the need arises. I say this because cooking legumes is not a quick process and the alternative is to buy them in cans, ready to use.
Yet, there are a few reasons why it might be better to take the time to cook them at home. For example, most canned beans are fairly high in salt and a salt preservative called disodium EDTA. A can of chickpeas I’m looking at right now has 360 mg of sodium per ½ cup serving. That’s about 1200 mg of sodium in the can. Then there’s the BPA in the can that we would all be better off not ingesting. In addition, buying dried legumes in bulk can actually be more economical than buying them in cans and you won’t have to deal with the recycling.
And finally, this is a personal issue, but I’ve opened many a can of beans to see a slimy sediment at the bottom of the can that has made me wish I had cooked my own. Enough said about. : ) The reason I bring all of this up is because, it doesn’t have to be a major job to cook legumes. The secret is to cook the beans when you don’t actually need the beans. If you plan ahead, it can be a very painless process.
Legumes need 8 hours or more of soaking time (in water) to begin the sprouting process and to neutralize enzymes that make the beans less digestible and less nutritious overall. This can be done overnight, or during the day and requires only a few minutes to set them up in a bowl of water.
Following the recipe for your legume of choice (add a piece of seaweed to add nutrients and help with digestibility), cook them on the stove, then let them cool. Drain and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for use later in the week. Or freeze for up to six months. If freezing, cook the beans al dente, and either freeze them in the cooking liquid (if you’d like to use some of the liquid in a recipe), or drain them and freeze. When ready to use, thaw during the day and they’ll be ready to use when you get home from work. And if you cook a large batch, you can freeze multiple servings.