Beans and Lentils as Part of the Mediterranean Diet

Beans and lentils are a big part of Mediterranean eating and provide great health benefits because they’re packed with fiber, B vitamins, protein, and phytochemicals. They’re also economical and can create amazing flavor and texture in your meals. People in the Mediterranean often eat less meat, so they depend on plant-based protein foods like beans and lentils.

If you aren’t used to eating beans and lentils, gradually add them to your diet and drink lots of water to cut down on the constipation and gas associated with these foods.

How to prepare canned and dried beans and lentils

Beans are available dried or canned. Canned beans are easy to use in any dish, saving you time. Dried beans take longer to prepare, but they have better flavor and texture and less sodium than the canned variety. Lentils provide a unique, rich flavor and have the added benefit of quick preparation and cooking compared to dried beans.

Canned beans

Canned beans provide a whole lot of convenience and still pack great flavor. You can pretty much open them and serve, but keep these notes in mind:

  • If you’re adding canned beans to a recipe, rinse them in a colander unless the recipe instructs you not to. Doing so removes the saucy liquid and helps decrease about 40 percent of the sodium used as a preservative.

  • When incorporating canned beans into a hot dish that’s cooking on a fairly high heat, add them toward the end of cooking. Otherwise, they can become too soggy and fall apart.

Dried beans

Using dried beans requires a little bit more upfront work than using canned does, but your reward is a richer taste than what canned offers. Here’s how it works:

  1. Sort through the beans, discarding any blemished or dirty ones.

  2. Soak the beans.

    The second step is, well, a bath. Preparing dried beans for cooking involves soaking them in one of three ways:

    1. Soak them overnight.

      A leisurely soak is the most common approach. Soak the beans in a large pot of water overnight (at least eight hours). Afterward, simply discard the soaking liquid and cook with fresh water.

    2. Soak them in boiling water.

      A quicker method is to bring the water to a boil, add the beans, remove the pan from the heat, and let the beans soak in the hot water for three to four hours. Discard the soaking liquid and then cook the beans in fresh water.

    3. Soak them in a pressure cooker.

      For fast and furious soaking, use a pressure cooker. Add your beans and about four cups of water to the pressure cooker. Lock the lid on and turn the cooker to high pressure. After the cooker is heated to high, reduce the heat to maintain the pressure and cook for two minutes. Release the pressure cooker by running cold water over the lid and then drain the beans; they’re now ready to use in your recipe.

Lentils

Lentils require no soaking before cooking. Just sort through them, discarding any that are discolored or have dirt on them. Give them a good rinse in a colander and cook them according to package directions or recipe directions.

Cooking times for dried legumes

To cook unsoaked lentils or soaked dried beans, cover about 1 pound of the legumes with 6 cups of fresh water (not the water used for soaking). Simmer the beans or lentils until they’re cooked and soft.

Cooking Times for Legumes
Type of Legume Cooking Time in a Saucepan Cooking Time in a Pressure Cooker
Black beans 2–3 hours 15–20 minutes
Fava beans 1 hour 10–15 minutes
Chickpeas 2–3 hours 15–20 minutes
Kidney beans 2–3 hours 15–20 minutes
Lima beans 45 minutes Not recommended
Pinto beans 2–3 hours 15–20 minutes
Lentils 30–45 minutes Not recommended

Most people enjoy a pretty soft texture to their beans. If you aren’t using a pressure cooker, you can try them at the early end of the cooking times to see if they’re soft enough for you; if they aren’t, continue cooking. You want to use your cooked beans within 5 days; if you can’t make that happen, you can freeze them for up to 6 months.

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