How to cook an amazing meal using pulses
Look in your cupboards. You probably have a forgotten packet of dried beans, lentils or broth mix. That’s an excellent meal right there.
Do your beans say Best Before 2011? Ignore! They’ll be fine. You may have to cook them a bit longer, but they don’t go bad. (UNLESS they’re damp. In which case they probably have gone bad, and you’ll need to throw them away)
So you have a packet of beans, lentils, peas, broth mix, and you’re thinking, “Boring!”
Wrong! You’re about to make a tasty main meal or side dish that you’ll love. Let’s begin with lentils as they’re dead easy.
You can buy two types of lentils. Whole and split. A split lentil is what’s inside a whole lentil. It’s that simple. Take the husk off a brown lentil, you’ll find two split red lentils.
Split lentils cook fairly quickly, about half an hour. Whole lentils take a bit longer. You can tell when split lentils are cooked by simply looking. Some completely disintegrate; some look mushy. Whole lentils swell up, but if you’re unsure you only have to bite one – but not while it’s boiling hot!
If you have a pressure cooker, dried beans are a doddle. If not, no problem. They take a while but only need keeping an eye on occasionally. I’ll talk about the stovetop way. If you’re using a pressure cooker reduce the time as per instructions. But please, don’t release the pressure quickly. I have done this and cleaned bits of cooked beans off the ceiling. Let the pressure drop gradually.
Most straightforward of all is in a normal, big pan on the stovetop. Boil beans until soft. This can take between one and two hours, but you can do other things while they cook. Use fewer beans – and a much bigger pan – than your logical brain tells you. They need plenty of water. You can soak them overnight to (slightly) reduce the cooking time. I seldom do. I’m not that well organised. Check on them frequently and add water back to its original level.
Now you can use your cooked beans in stews and curries, in cheese sauce and minestrone. In anything you choose.
Cooked beans freeze well. So if you have a really big pan, boil more than you need today and freeze the rest in portions. My guide to a “portion” of cooked beans is the amount you get in… guess?… a tin of beans! In fact, if you like to reuse and recycle, wash out some tins and freeze your beans in them. Easy storing and measuring right there.
So let’s add a step, making the beans a meal with very little extra work.
You can use bigger beans that take longer to cook, but I suggest trying aduki or mung beans first time.
Heat some oil or butter in a big pan – not too hot – and add your choice of spices, herbs or curry paste. Fry for a few minutes then add some beans. Again, don’t overdo it. They really need space. A layer a couple of centimetres high, over the entire base of the pan, is a good guide. Stir the beans around for a few minutes till they’re fairly hot, then add water.
If you have hot water in a kettle, use that. But cold is fine. It’ll soon heat up. The water should come to about four or five times the height of the beans to start off. Bring to the boil then turn the heat right down. There’s a good chance the water will boil over. My solution is to leave a wooden spoon in the pan, meaning it’s impossible to put the lid right on. Alternatively, don’t bother with a lid at all, but you’ll have to watch the liquid level doesn’t fall too much.
Unlike the plain boiling method, most of the liquid needs to be absorbed into the beans. You don’t want to be draining them. So after 45 minutes remove one bean with a teaspoon, dip it into cold water and bite it. If it’s almost soft, now is the time to adjust seasoning and reduce the liquid to almost none. At this point, don’t walk away! They could burn and you’ll only be having a jam sandwich for dinner.
If the beans are soft, all you need to do is add salt if liked, and turn the heat up slightly until there’s not much liquid left. Now you can add whatever you like to your meal – tinned tomatoes, leftover meat or vegetables, a tin of tuna or anchovies… Or nothing at all. They’ll taste delicious as they are.
If they’re still a bit hard add a little water and test again after fifteen minutes or thereabouts. Once they’re soft, you’re at the seasoning stage above.
Broth Mix – no need to make broth!
Do you have a bag of this at the back of a cupboard, but no inclination to make Scotch Broth? I know the feeling. But look at it. What do you see? A random muddle of useless coloured things? If you’re like me you will see three side dishes.
Barley, lentils, split peas, and possibly whole peas. If you have a little patience to separate them, you’re on the way to making a tasty meal.
Okay, confession time. See those dinky little peas? I put hem in a small pan with “plenty” of water. I brought them to the boil, got distracted, and burned them. Don’t do that!
Boil the barley until soft, then use as you would any other grain.
I decided the red lentils and yellow split peas should be eaten together. Once cooked, they’re pretty similar. The peas take longer so I simmered them for about twenty minutes, then added the lentils.
If you don’t get many green peas in the mix, keep them in a jam jar and use them another day.
Well I could write so much more. But instead, please ask me any questions that come to mind as you read.
Thanks for your interest.