Love Your Legumes

So, you have beans and lentils in your grocery cupboard or shopping basket: now what???

You know beans and legumes are good for you. You’ve seen many varieties in food and vegetable markets. But… how do you incorporate them into your diet on a regular basis in a tasty, easy and acceptable manner?

What are legumes?

Legumes include beans of every variety (green beans, baked beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, butter beans, sugar beans etc); also chickpeas, lentils and split peas.

Why are legumes good for us?

Legumes are:

  • Rich in protein, and are therefore ideal in vegetarian dishes
  • Rich in fibre
  • Very low in fat
  • Contain some B vitamins, copper and zinc
  • Cheap!!
  • BEANS AND LEGUMES are the cheapest and healthiest source of protein

Therefore, legumes have many health advantages:

  • Due to its high fibre content, legumes help prevent/reduce colon-disorder symptoms (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome, constipation etc)
  • Legumes also help protect against heart disease
  • Legumes help lower fasting blood glucose levels
  • Legumes added to a meal – help sustain energy levels after that meal is eaten
  • Legumes leave one feeling fuller / more satisfied after a meal (great in weight-reducing diets!)
  • Legumes help stimulate the immune system in the colon

Nutritional values of various types of legumes per cooked/ready-to-eat serving?

Despite differences in colour and taste, all legumes have a similar nutritional value. A serving of beans contains no cholesterol, excellent protein value, lots of complex carbohydrates, and virtually zero fat. In addition, beans are a good source of B vitamins, potassium, and digestive health-promoting fibre.

Cooking Instructions

Beans will cook more evenly, tenderly and in less time if they have been soaked first.

To soak beans overnight:

Rinse and cover with cold water. Leave to stand overnight.

Quick soak:

Cover beans with water (about 2 cm above the beans), microwave for 3 minutes on high and leave to stand for 30 minutes. Then cook as described below.

Cooking Method:

Rinse well, cover with water and simmer gently for +/- 1 hour and 45 minutes.

BLACK-EYED BEANS½ cup = 90g cooked:
7g protein
436kJ / 100kCal
13g carbohydrate
6g fibre
250 ml (1 cup) raw beans make 550 ml (2 ¼ cups) cooked beans. One serving is usually 125 ml (1/2 cup) cooked beans. Salt and any acidic ingredients should only be added to the beans about three quarters of the way through cooking, as these ingredients can lengthen cooking time or prevent softening.Black-eyed beans are delicious in an aromatic vegetarian curry, can be blended into a spicy bean dip or added into rice or couscous for extra flavour and nutritional benefit.
(also known as garbanzo beans)

An excellent nutritional choice and are high in fibre and protein. They are also considered more digestible than most other beans.
They have a very low glycemic index.
½ cup = 90g cooked:
7g protein
436kJ / 100kCal
13g carbohydrate
6g fibre
Soak overnight, Discard the water and simmer for 1 ½ hours.

If you use canned chick peas, drain and rinse well to get rid of the brine.
Chick peas can be used whole in salads or ground up to make hummus.
They can be used warm in soups, vegetable stews, vegetarian curries and casseroles.
Whole soybeans are an excellent source of protein and dietary fibre where soya protein is considered the only natural non-animal complete source of protein. Soya has recently attracted a lot of attention because of its ability to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and can be used in soups, curries, and stews.
1/3 cup cooked:
7g protein
334kJ / 80kCal
6g carbohydrate
4g essential fats
2g fibre
Soya Beans are an excellent source of protein, with a firm and nutty flesh that stands up well to re-heating. Delicious added to stir fries and soups.
Cooking Instructions
Simmer for 3 – 4 hours
Soya beans can be used whole in salads or used warm in soups, vegetable stews, vegetarian curries and casseroles.
Lentils are legumes that have a rich nutty flavour and are much quicker to cook than any other legume as they do not require soaking. Lentils are extremely versatile and absorb flavours well.
Lentils are highly nutritious and are a good source of fibre, B vitamins and protein and are also a low GI food.
½ cup = 90g cooked:
8g protein
438kJ / 100kCal
11g carbohydrate
7g fibre
0.3g fat
50 ml (1 cup) raw brown lentils makes 550 ml (2 ¼ cups) cooked brown lentils. One serving is usually 125 ml (1/2 cup) cooked brown lentils.
Cooking Instructions
Cover with water, Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes
They are delicious served as a salad, in a thick warm soup, in spicy vegetarian curries and can be used as a healthy meat extender in bolognaise or lasagnas.

Lentils add lots of flavour and some protein to all kinds of dishes, from soups to salads. Combine with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, parsley and garlic as a salad or puree with cumin, grated ginger and turmeric for an Indian dahl.

Are canned beans okay to use?

Canned beans are great to use! All the pre-preparation of soaking and cooking is already done. Be sure to drain the beans really well in a sieve, and rinse off the brine to reduce the salt intake. Use as is in salads, soups, stews, stir-fries, starch dishes.

Always keep several tins of beans in your pantry: chickpeas, red kidney beans (great in salads – great colour!, and don’t forget that Chilli con carne is not the same without these), baked beans (puree and use as a thickener in mince dishes and casseroles; or simply use as “baked beans on toast”), butter beans, lentils, mixed beans – and any others. Start experimenting – using beans in at least 2-3 dishes per week.

Ways to incorporate legumes into daily foods


  • baked beans on toast will sustain you 6 hours instead of only 3-4 hours!


  • chickpea falafels
  • 3-beans salad
  • bean soup
  • kidney bean salad
  • lentil soup


  • add beans or lentils either to your starch dish (lentils added to brown rice is yummy, or couscous mixed with chickpeas or lentils could make a meal on its own!)
  • or to your protein dish: for non-vegetarians – always boost your mince, goulash, and chicken dishes with either lentils or beans.
  • Of course, the ideal is to make legumes your PROTEIN source: soya patties, soya fritters, vegetarian lasagne with lentils, chickpeas added to couscous/pasta together with mixed peppers and feta plus olive oil and balsamic is filling and delicious!

Purchase a South African vegetarian recipe book and learn to make a couple of standard delicious dishes incorporating beans and lentils. After a while, allow your imagination to run riot – and create your own dishes using either fresh legumes (prepared as per above table), or canned ones.

Have fun experimenting – whilst at the same time reap the extensive health benefits legumes can give you. ENJOY your beans!

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