Pulses and lentils are the ripe edible seeds of a wide range of pod-bearing, leguminous plants. Versatile and highly nutritious, they are used in soups, stews, curries, salads and both sweet and savoury dishes all around the world.
Buy pulses, if possible, from the last season’s harvest as old beans will need more soaking and will gradually lose their flavour. Look for a shop with a high turnover as the beans are likely to be fresher. Use within six to nine months.
Dried beans, pulses and lentils have a long shelf life, usually up to a year, but once opened, keep the packet or bag in an airtight container in a cool, dark and dry place. Remember, however, the older they are, the harder they tend to become, so you may need to cook them for longer.
Canned beans and pulses are an invaluable addition to the store-cupboard as it’s not always convenient or practical to soak and boil dried ones. Although not costly they are, however, more expensive than dried beans and pulses, and they also tend to be softer and blander than home-cooked ones.
Once cooked, beans, pulses and lentils keep well in a covered container, for a couple of days in the fridge and reheat well. Freeze cooked beans in small portions in firm containers. Fill to one or two inches from the top, making sure the beans are covered with liquid or sauce (if applicable) so they won’t dry out. Cooked beans will keep in the freezer 2-3 months. When you come to use them, thaw them out slowly to retain their shape.
Most dried beans and pulses, unlike lentils and split peas, require soaking in cold water. As well as starting the rehydration process, this helps to eliminate any impurities that can make them difficult to digest. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packet.
Make sure you boil all kidney and soya beans vigorously for ten minutes at the beginning of cooking in order to destroy any toxins and ensure the beans are harmless.
As you cook beans, a white scum often floats to the surface; skim this off with a slotted spoon.
Do not add salt until the end of cooking as salt has a hardening effect: it toughens the skin and stops the inside from becoming tender.
If using canned beans or lentils, drain and rinse thoroughly in cold water before using.