Beans and lentils are delicious hot or cold. They are visually appealing and come in many different shapes, sizes and colors – including yellow chickpeas, red or white kidney beans and multi-colored lentils. Being highly adaptable, they combine well with a wide variety of flavors and foods, running the gamut from graceful and elegant to rib-sticking. Lentils can make inspiring appetizers, distinctive soups, the most stylish of salads, and delicious entrees. Better still, they are inexpensive and highly nutritious. In fact, if it weren’t for dried beans and lentils, many of our pioneer ancestors would not have survived. Because they were easy to store, legumes were a crucial source of nutrition for an age that lacked refrigeration as well as seasonal supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Although the benefits vary between different types, legumes share some common nutritional characteristics. All are a rich source of B vitamins, calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc.
Legumes are an excellent source of low-fat protein. A diet rich in beans and lentils can help to provide necessary protein without the added cholesterol and fat contained in meat. Strict vegetarians should ensure they eat adequate amounts of grains and cereals, seeds and nuts in addition to legumes.
Dried beans and lentils can be purchased in various package sizes at most supermarkets or from bulk food stores. They should be stored in a dry, airtight container at room temperature. Since they lose their moisture over time, they are best used within a year. Not only do old beans take longer to soak and to cook, they are likely to be tougher than beans that have been stored for only a few months.
Once cooked, legumes should be covered and stored in the refrigerator where they will keep for four to five days. Cooked legumes can also be frozen. Packaged in an airtight, freezer-friendly container, they will keep frozen for up to six months. The Beans Lentils & Tofu Gourmet, Published by Robert Rose Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2000.