Legumes, as we now know, are a genuinely excellent food from a nutritional point of view, but learning how to cook them well can be challenging. Here, we reveal some tricks to best prepare them, from making them softer and more digestible to flavorings that enhance their organoleptic characteristics.
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Soaking And Cooking
First, check how “old” the legumes you want to cook are and how they were stored. In general, it is better to buy small doses at a time, trying to understand when they were collected, or, if this is not possible, paying attention to the expiration date shown on the package. Wash them well and leave them to soak in plenty of water at room temperature. The ideal proportion is one portion of legumes and six of water. How long to soak? Once the soaking is finished, drain the legumes and rinse them.
Please place them in an earthenware or steel pot with a triple bottom and add water, always in the proportion of one to six. Partially cover and cook over low heat, eliminating the foam that naturally forms on the surface. In the case of chickpeas, you can also try rubbing them between your fingers after soaking to remove the skin. It takes a little time, but you will gain the final tenderness. In any case, never salt the cooking water, which, especially if flavored with aromatic herbs and spices, can be reused for soups, stews, or vegetable broths.
How long does it take to soak?
Medium-large lentils (small and hulled ones do not need to be soaked for a maximum of 10-15 minutes) must be left to soak in water for approximately 2-3 hours and cook in 25–30 minutes. For broad beans and shelled peas, soaking takes 4-5 hours, and cooking takes around 45–50 minutes. Beans, in general, and broad beans with their skins require a minimum of 12 hours and a maximum of 24 hours of soaking and cooking for approximately 70–90 minutes.
Chickpeas and grass peas need 18–36 hours of soaking and cooking for about 90–120 minutes. It is a good idea to change the soaking water once or greatly based on the total number of hours of soaking so that part of the phytates and other compounds present in legumes interfere with digestion and make the absorption of some minerals more difficult by the organism. The yield after cooking is approximately two to three times the dry weight, so 100 g of dried legumes becomes 250–300 g ready for consumption.
With the pressure cooker
If you prefer to use a pressure cooker, limit the water to three times the volume of the legumes. With this technique, you will have the advantage of reducing cooking times by up to a third, going, for example, from one hour in a traditional pot to 20 minutes in a pressure cooker.
A pinch of aroma
Aromatic herbs, spices, and seaweed can help improve the taste of cooked legumes and make them easier to digest. Fresh bay leaves are preferable because they are very effective and not too invasive from an aromatic point of view. Savory, fennel, star anise seeds, rosemary, thyme, and fresh ginger are also excellent.
You can add a good aromatic flavoring during cooking by combining 3 to 4 bay leaves, five–six fennel seeds, star anise, a little garlic, and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Then tie everything together with kitchen string so the seeds and small leaves are well wrapped and cannot fall out, and immerse the aromatic “bundle” in the cooking water. Again, to ensure the excellent tenderness of the legumes, you can add a small piece of kombu seaweed, approximately 10 cm, to the cooking water, leave it to soak for 5–10 minutes, and then rinse it.
If they are frozen
Legumes frozen from fresh keep most of their nutritional and organoleptic characteristics intact. Preserved in this way, we find, in addition to the usual peas, broad beans, soy or edamame, borlotti beans, and, in some cases, chickpeas and lentils. They are all found in practical packages and have the advantage of being able to be dosed as desired without the risk of having to cook excessive quantities and then not knowing how to use them. To cook, they are thrown directly into boiling water, plain or flavored with herbs and spices, but never salted. If you need to stop the bright color, drain them while they are not overcooked and cool in ice water.