Nutritious Plant-Based Protein at a Fraction of the Cost
Looking for an inexpensive, healthy way to get more protein your diet? Beans are the key!
Beans (and lentils) are the star players when it comes to plant-based protein. And if you learn to cook dried beans instead of relying on canned, you can save a ton of money. For example, a can of organic, no-salt added beans at my local co-op is $2.49 and yields about 1 3/4 cups of beans. I can get at least a pound of the same beans dry in the bulk department for the same price (or less), and they’ll triple in size to yield 6 or more cups once cooked. That’s almost 3 1/2 times as many beans!
Do I even have to ask if you want to spend 3 1/2 times less on a daily staple? Check out the two most common methods for cooking, and get ready to embrace beans at every meal no matter what your budget.
Cooking Beans: Stovetop
Simmering beans on the stovetop is a method that may seem old-fashioned, but it’s time-tested and results in tender, flavorful beans if you’re up for being patient. Since this method can take several hours, it’s best to try it on a quiet afternoon when you’re hanging out at home with the family or working in the kitchen preparing another long-cooking dish.
For tasty stovetop beans:
- Soak beans overnight in a large bowl with enough water to cover
- If you forget to soak beans and still want to go the stovetop route, you can “quick soak” them for an hour to soften them up.
- Rinse and drain the beans
- Add beans to a large saucepan or stock pot with 3 cups of water for every cup of beans
- Cover the pan, and bring the water to a boil
- Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer
- Cook for 1 hour before starting to test for doneness
If you like, you can add some flavor to your beans by tossing in garlic, onions and/or herbs when you turn down the heat to start the simmering process.
I’ve never tried this method, but I’ve read stovetop beans have a way of going from inedible to perfectly tender in a matter of minutes, so it’s important to keep testing them starting around the hour mark. Most beans take at least two hours to get to the right texture. You’ll know they’re done when you can squish one between your fingers and there’s no sign of toughness or hard spots in the core.
Lentils cook much more quickly and don’t require soaking. They’re perfect if you don’t have any cooked beans on hand and need something to add to salads or toss in a dinner dish in a hurry. Start by rinsing lentils and removing any small stones or sticks. Place them in a saucepan with twice as much water as lentils, and cook as for stovetop beans for 25 to 30 minutes. Red lentils take a little less time, around 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid before serving.
Cooking Beans: Pressure Cooker
My preferred method for cooking beans is to use a pressure cooker, specifically an electric model like an Instant Pot, but stovetop cookers are just as speedy. If you have a hectic schedule and are still trying to get the hang of preparing whole plant foods without spending a lot of time in the kitchen, this is the method for you.
Pressure cooking beans goes faster if you soak the beans first, but it’s okay if you forget. You can still rinse dried beans, dump them in the cooker and get good results. Follow your cooker’s instructions for liquid amounts and cooking times, or check out the handy charts on Hip Pressure Cooking. Cooking instructions also vary between different pressure cookers, so familiarize yourself with the owner’s manual for the model you have.
Plant-based pressure cooking cookbooks like The New Fast Food by Jill Nussinow or Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna J. Sass are handy to have around to answer questions and help troubleshoot if you have difficulty with your pressure cooker. There’s a bit of a learning curve with some electric models, but it’s worth getting the hang of them since you can cook most beans in under 15 minutes if they’ve been soaked first!
Here are a few tips from my own bean cooking adventures:
- Water ratios don’t seem to be universal, so I put in enough to cover the beans by at least one inch and drain the excess when they’re done
- Toss in a 1-inch piece of kombu seaweed (dried kelp), available at Asian markets, to tenderize the beans and add trace minerals
- If you’re cooking chickpeas, save the water to experiment with aquafaba recipes!
Storing Your Beans
Since you’re likely to cook way more beans than you’ll use in one sitting, plan to store the leftovers. Use airtight containers to separate out single servings or meal-sized portions. It’s up to you whether to store the beans in the cooking water or drain them first. I drain it off, but if you use the stovetop method and flavor the water, you may prefer to save it.
Beans will stay tasting fresh for about four days in the fridge or up to six months in the freezer. (If you pull out a container and the beans have a slimy coating or funny smell, don’t use them!)
Benefits of Beans
Okay, so now you’re a bean cooking boss. You have a fridge or freezer full of beans. Why make them a staple of your diet? Is eating beans every day good for you?
It’s more than good — it’s an essential part of a plant-based diet! Beans contain a powerful combination of nutrients and fiber, making them good for:
- Improving digestion and minimizing constipation
- Reducing the risk of colorectal cancer
- Lowering cholesterol and improving heart health
- Keeping blood sugar in check
- Managing or losing weight
Beans are lower in calories than animal proteins and contain none of the potentially harmful fats and pro-inflammatory compounds. They’re also nutrient-dense, boasting high levels of iron along with a range of B vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and potassium.
Get inspired to add more beans to your meals with two of my favorite combinations:
There you go! You’re all set to rule the kitchen with your newfound bean cooking prowess.