How To Cook with Beans and Lentils

By Ansley Dalbo

Cooking beans from scratch couldn’t be easier and once you do it a few times, you will definitely taste the difference between dried and canned beans. Whenever I make soup from beans that I’ve cooked myself, my husband will always say, “Oh man, this tastes better than usual” and I smile to myself knowing that the extra couple of steps were worth it. There is only one thing that’s a pain about making beans… you have to think ahead. They REALLY benefit from an overnight soak both for taste and digestion reasons. Here’s how to do it:

The night before, wash your beans and then let them sit overnight in a pot with water covering them by about two inches. Then the next morning, you’re ready to go. If you’re not going to cook the beans within 8 – 12 hours, then you’ll want to keep them in the refrigerator where they will keep for about 24 hours. Now that your beans are soaked, there are two main methods for cooking them:

1) In the oven. This is my favorite method because it is so simple. Drain your soaked beans, and then in an oven-safe pot, cover them with water by about an inch and then bake them at 425 degrees for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Now, there are a couple of beans that can’t be cooked this way (like cannellini beans) and I find that certain beans do better with this treatment than others. Chickpeas are excellent in the oven, as are pinto beans, although they can take more than 2 hours. I start tasting beans after they’ve been in the oven for about 90 minutes. Every 20 minutes or so, try a few to see if they’re cooked. Once they’re cooked, add salt (I generally add about a tablespoon for a pound of beans, but do it to taste), a little oil, and any other seasonings you like.

2) On the stove. The alternate approach (and this works for every kind of bean) is to take your soaked beans, drain them, cover with new water by about an inch, add a couple of bay leaves and bring to a boil. Once they’re boiling, cut the heat down to low and simmer covered for an hour or two. Most beans will take longer than an hour to cook, but I generally start testing them every twenty minutes or so after the hour mark. Once you’re satisfied with how done they are, add salt, oil and any seasonings you want. Enjoy them in tacos, bowls, soups, and salads!

So that’s beans… how about lentils?

When I was a kid, I always wondered why we had lentil soup so often. When I asked my mom why, she said, because you don’t have to plan for it in advance. Fast forward 30 years and now I understand what she meant… you don’t have to soak lentils the night before and they can be cooked and on the table in around 30 minutes. A huge advantage for last-minute meal planners! Lentils are high in fiber and protein… and DELICIOUS. I make them a couple of times a week, either in the form of a soup or cooked and put into a salad with chopped onion and cilantro.

All you have to do with lentils is wash them well and pick out any rocks or small pebbles that can sometimes be in the package. Then follow whatever recipe you’d like to use them in! Here’s my favorite lentil recipe:

Wash one cup of dried lentils well, then put them in a pot with two cups of water and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then put the heat on “low” and cook for 20 – 25 minutes, adding a little water if they look dry. Once they’re cooked, add a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil and a two tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust the oil and vinegar to your taste preferences as well. Dice a small carrot well and add to the lentils for crunch!

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