beans: how to eat them

I’m a big fan of beans. They’re cheap. They’re tasty. They’re filling. They’re super duper nutritious. One of the things that Blue Zone diets have in common is that they all feature... you guessed it, beans. Right now these legumous morsels have more importance than ever. We’re eating way too much meat. We’re not eating enough vegetables. But we love meat. Beans are like meaty vegetables. Booyah!

via here.

Saying that, most people’s experiences of beans are from out of a can. No no. They’re doing it wrong. Consider this a cheat sheet on how to really eat beans:


  • We really should be saying “legumes”. All beans and lentils and chickpeas etc are collectively called legumes. When I say beans I mean legumes. Maybe I should start saying legumes. Alrighty then. Legumes are packed full of goodness. Some dot points within a dot point:

* They’re low in carbs and glucose, which helps to keep our insulin levels down – vital if we want to stay healthy for longer.
* They’re rich in many important minerals and B complex vitamins, important for our body’s energy production and for making red blood cells.
* They contain several phytochemicals, or anti-cancer agents.
* They contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, crucial for brain and heart health.
* They’re low fat, high in folate and iron, rich in fibre and high in protein. Good combo.
  • Try not to eat legumes out of can. Canned legumes have been superheated and so all the nutrients in them have been destroyed. Also, canned versions are mushy and insipid. And let’s not forget cans are lined with BPA and/or other plastics that leach into the contents, and then into you. Finally, canning food that is easily available otherwise is not sustainable. Only 25-40% of each food can made in Australia is made out of recycled steel. The rest needs to be made from virgin mined iron ore. Add all the other resources: coal, inks, lacquers, plastics, energy, water... Tsk Tsk. 
  • Buy dried legumes. They keep for a long time in the pantry. They’re super cheap and you can prepare them properly so they are optimally health-giving.


VERY IMPORTANT: Before cooking, legumes should always be soaked overnight to remove a naturally-occurring substance called phytic acid which can cause problems with mineral uptake in our bodies. Soaking breaks the phytic acid down. It also reduces the farting problem. Place them in a bowl, cover them with water, add a dash of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (optional) and leave them on the bench overnight or until you’re ready to cook them. Drain and give them a good rinse before cooking.

If you’re really keen, you can also sprout your legumes. I like sprouting lentils and cooking this dahl.

P.S Lentils are lower in phytic acid than other legumes but I soak them anyway, just to be safe.


Most legumes are cooked in the same way except for lentils, so I’ve separated the two for you.

Humble home-cooked beans recipe
I LOVE this recipe by good ol’ Jamie Oliver. It’s so simple and easy but SUPREMELY delicious – Humble Home-Cooked Beans. Jamie uses Borlotti beans but you can cook any type of bean you like in this basic way (Great Northern beans, Borlotti and Butter beans are my faves) and then serve them with a side of baked vegetables, creamy mash or polenta, a nice piece of fish, some chicken, whatever you like.

You must try Jamie's Humble Home-Cooked Beans

A simple lentil recipe
Just so you know, brown lentils and hulled red lentils* tend to go mushy. Puy (French style) lentils, green lentils and Persian (unhulled red) lentils hold their shape a lot better.

*You don’t need to soak hulled red lentils.

Drain and rinse the soaked lentils really well. Place them in a pot and add enough cold water to just cover. Add 2 or 3 bay leaves, a sprig of fresh thyme and 6 peppercorns or whole pimentos, bring to the boil then simmer gently until cooked, about 45 minutes to 1 hour (note that brown lentils and hulled red lentils take less time to cook so keep an eye on them). Keep an eye on the water level and top up with boiling water just a little if the lentils are looking too dry, because you won’t be draining them at the end.

When the lentils are cooked, preferably al dente, discard the bay leaves, thyme and spices. Add salt to taste, freshly ground black pepper and a dash of apple cider or red wine vinegar and a generous Greek glug of olive oil. Sprinkle with some fresh herbs and lemon zest and serve. I like these with baked vegetables on the side and some mashed potato or polenta.

You could also pour the lentils into a baking dish with a touch more water or stock and top with mashed potato for a lentiley shepherds’ pie.

P.P.S If you're keen for more ideas on how to cook with legumes, follow me on Instagram coz I tend to share my legume cook-ups there.


  1. Got any thoughts on kidney beans? I've seen warnings about how to properly prepare dried kidney beans, to prevent you getting really sick...

    1. Hi Becs, do you mean fava beans? I haven't heard of any issues associated with kidney beans, as far as I know you can just prepare them as per others. But fava beans contain a substance that can cause a type of life-threatening anaemia in some people, so they say to avoid those.

    2. No definitely red kidney beans - I think raw they do something to red blood cells (I'm abit vague on remembering the exact details here) to do with clumping, so could be similar to the fava bean example you gave.

    3. Never heard of it! I think most legumes should be avoided raw. Even sprouted ones should be lightly cooked. Thanks for letting me know, will see what info I can find.

    4. Kidney bean lectins can be an issue if the beans are not boiled for ten minutes prior to slow cooking.

  2. Handy to know 'legumes' covers chickpeas, lentils and beans. I never have second thoughts about being a vegetarian with legumes around - ah a part from the odd craving for fish. Good to know how beneficial they are too. Legume dishes - certainly a lost art in western culture for the most part. Mind you I wouldn't call how i use them an art form. ph

  3. Maria what are your thoughts on the fast way to soak beans (ie as opposed to the overnight soak)? From memory, you boil the beans rapidly for 3 minutes, then turn heat off, cover, and leave for an hour. This is supposed to be a sub for soaking overnight. I'd be interested to know if this compromises the phytic acid issue, or if it's as good as an overnight soak. Because sometimes i forget to do the soak the night before.

    I've found the biggest challenge with beans is finding tasty recipes. I've found various bean recipes turn our stodgy and unappetising, and I really hate wasting ingredients.

    1. Hi Jane. I haven't been able to find any detailed info on how affective the rapid soaking method is in neutralising phytic acid. I think if you were going to use that method from time to time, it's OK, especially if you add an acid like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to the mix.

      Keep an eye on this blog... I've got some tasty bean recipes coming ;)

  4. Hello Maria again

    Maria what are your thoughts on making tofu? As a vegetarian, who tries to eliminate as much plastic from my life as possible, I don't buy tofu as it is wrapped in plastic, which means i'm missing out on what, i think, is a very versatile and pleasurable addition to a lot of meals.

    I've been meaning to have a go at making it myself. It doesn't look like a difficult process from what i have seen. Have you ever tried to make it? If so do you have any tips? Can Australian soy beans be sourced? And while on the subject, homemade soy milk, any thoughts? What do you think of the health benefits of soy beans and do you use them much?

    I think I will stop putting making it off and give it a go

    I'm relatively new to your blog I hope you haven't already covered this.

    thanks for your time

    1. I avoid soy and all soy products a) because I can't stand the taste and b) because soy comes with a lot of pitfalls if you don't prepare it properly. Here's an article summarising the issue: Soy should only really be eaten in large amounts if fermented, as in tempeh, soy sauce, miso etc. Tofu is made with unfermented soybeans so risky if eaten in large amounts over a long period of time. Soy milk is also made of unfermented soy beans. I'm not sure if you can buy fermented soy milk, worth looking into if you're a fan of it. Hope that helps.

  5. Very helpful thanks Maria

  6. I do appreciate this, but it isn't all true
    - Beans are predominately carbs (though you're right that they are the complex type, not entirely akin to white sugar). The protein found in beans do not make up a complete protein (with all the necessary amino acids), and contrary to proper belief, neither does pairing beans and rice.
    - heating beans (like those in the cans are heated) does not destroy the nutrients in them - this is a common myth about foods that is pushed by groups advocating for raw diets.

    I think beans make a great substitute for added thickeners in soups - adding some mashed beans (or better yet, cooking the beans in the soup) lets their starch out into broth, thickening it nicely.

    I've also used them for making dips and baked goods (blended white beans make a great base for both sweet and savory items!)

    1. I LOVE your blended white bean idea... must try that!

      Beans contain complex carbs but their high fibre content slows down the absorption so it's nothing to fear. Yes they contain vegetable protein which isn't a complete protein as is animal protein, but I don't suggest a diet completely devoid of animal products. Incorporating beans can round-out a healthy diet and boost fibre, mineral and vegetable protein intake. All great things for heart health.

      Do you have any links to research on canned beans? Yes, there seems to be two camps!



Flickr Photostream

Twitter Updates

Meet The Author