By Emma Chow
Dry pulses and beans are cheap, wholesome and delicious. Bulk up your meals with pulses and beans and reduce costly meat consumption while still providing your family with great energy food. Here’s how to use them.
While dry pulses are almost always very cheap to buy, I like purchasing them from bulk stores or ethnic food stores where the turnover is high and you can pick from a large variety. Most large fresh food markets have nut shops which also sell pulses in bulk. Look for pulses that are uniform in size, bright in colour and are smooth with a minimal number of broken or shrivelled specimens. The older the pulses are the drier and more shrivelled they will be. If you’re buying them in a pack, inspect the expiry date. Also inspect for any evidence of the hated weevils. If you see anything moth-like or tiny wormy caterpillar like things, avoid.
Because weevils can be a serious issue for all dried goods, it is best to store pulses in glass. While a tightly covered container in a dark place should be sufficient, weevils are known to get past these defences. After Christmas break, I came back to the organic store kitchen I was working in to find our large tightly sealed plastic bins of pulses and beans to be full of moths and worms. Hundreds of kilos of produce had to be discarded. Glass jars with tightly sealed lids, such as old coffee jars, and the old fashioned jar with a rubber seal are best for dry goods. Taken care of in this way, they can keep for years. However it is best to use them within the year of purchase. Cooked pulses can be kept in the fridge for up to three days, after being cooled and covered. They also survive freezing well; freeze them in portions and just add to cooking dishes as required throughout the week or month.
When you buy a bag of dry pulses and you won’t use it immediately, chuck it in the freezer for a couple of weeks. If there are any weevil eggs, this should kill them.
As a rule, you should soak all your pulses before cooking. This reduces cooking time and gives the pulses their best eating texture. You do not have to soak lentils and split peas. However I find that if you are cooking a dhal or a soup, soaking lentils or split peas in water for at least an hour can reduce the cooking time and encourage a softer creamier texture. Also, if you want your split peas or lentils to retain their shape, do not soak. Pulses need to be soaked for 10-12 hours, so it is best to soak them overnight. You do not need to put them in the fridge, unless it is high Summer or you live in a humid area, in which case soak them overnight in the fridge. Discard the soaking liquid before cooking. It’s a good idea to change the soaking liquid once during this period, but don’t worry if you forget.
A quick soak can also be used, but it yields results not quite as good as a long slow soak. Soak pulses in just boiled water for an hour before cooking.
You need to use a saucepan that can accommodate three times the amount of dry pulses that you are cooking. Add the pulses to the pot, cover with water and bring to the boil. Do not use the soaking liquid. Then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with a tight fitting lid and allow to cook. The cooking time varies between different pulses; the larger the pulse, the longer the cooking time.
Pulse Cooking Times
- Chickpeas will take an hour to an hour and a half.
- Whole dried peas also an hour to an hour and a half; split peas are half the time.
- Red lentils take no more than 15 minutes cooking
- Green lentils take about half an hour to 45 minutes.
Do not add salt to the pulses until they have finished cooking. Acidic ingredients can also negatively affect cooking and should not be added till pulses are tender. Skim the foam that rises to the top; these are impurities that you don’t want.
Buying: As above, it is best to buy your beans from a bulk store or ethnic food store where the turnover of product is high. The quality and freshness is better than packs of things that might be sitting on the shelf for a long time. Also in ethnic stores or market stalls like these, the full range of product is more likely to be utilised, as various other cultures incorporate beans and pulses into their daily diet much more than Western cultures. Look for beans that are uniform in size, bright in colour and are smooth with a minimal number of broken or shrivelled specimens. Again, if you’re buying them in a pack, inspect the expiry date. If there are moth-like or tiny wormy caterpillar like creatures in the back, avoid it.
Like with pulses, beans should be stored in glass that can be tightly sealed, to prevent weevils from infesting. A bay leaf placed in each jar of pulses or beans can prevent weevils breeding. Store the glass jars in a cool, dark, dry place. Try to use dry beans within a year of their purchase. In the collecting of beans, sometimes there are small bits of grit or stone amongst them. You can sieve these out or spread the beans on a flat surface and pick out any bits that shouldn’t be there. You could also save this process for just before cooking and rinse the beans under water. As above, if you don’t need to use the beans immediately, chuck the whole bag in the freezer for a couple of weeks to eliminate the chance of weevils. Pop a bay leaf in the bean jar to help this further.
Cooked beans will store in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for months. Do a big bean cook-up on the weekend so you have them to use through the week.
General consensus states that all dry beans require soaking before cooking. This process shortens cooking time, and the beans will have a creamy texture once cooked, without causing them to break down. Beans need to be soaked in 3 times their volume of water and soaked for 12 hours or overnight. You can also quick soak beans, soaking them for 1 to 1 ½ hours in just boiled water.
Beans also need to be cooked in at least 3 times their volume of water. Place the soaked beans in a pot large enough to accommodate this and put on heat. Bring it to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow to cook for 1 to 1 and a ½ hours until the beans are tender. Test throughout the tail end of cooking time. If you’re cooking beans for a soup, undercook them and allow them to finish cooking in the soup; beans absorb a lot of flavour. Skim the foam from cooking beans and discard. The cooking liquid from beans should not be discarded; it has absorbed a lot of the bean nutrients and can be used as a new base for a soup.
Do not add salt to beans until they are just tender. Acidic ingredients can also negatively affect cooking and should not be added till beans are cooked. Top the beans up with more water as they are cooking if the liquid level should drop. Covering the cooking pot yields beans with a creamier texture than if they stay uncovered. Cooking beans requires patience; increasing the temperature to a boil causes the outside of the bean to break up while the inside will be tough. Test the beans throughout cooking; a bean can go from hard to tender in the space of 15 or 20 minutes. Beans can take between 1 to 3 hours to cook, depending on their size and age. Allow your beans to soak in the liquid for 15 minutes after they are cooked to just tender. This soaking can yield a creamy bean texture without overcooking.
Pressure cookers and slow cookers:
If you have one of these then you’re at a serious advantage. In a pressure cooker or slow cooker you first quickly cook the beans at a boil for 10 minutes before slowing it right down and simmering. You can add all your herby, spicy flavourings at the start, but don’t add anything acidic as it slows down the cooking process. Salt can cause the outside of a bean or pulse to go hard. Old fashioned advice dictates adding baking soda to your cooking beans; don’t do this, it turns them downright mushy. The process of soaking is also meant to soak away the stuff that causes beans to make people feel gassy. Now that’s a major advantage, so don’t skip that step.