Conquering the Kitchen: Best Bean Cooking Techniques

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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.

Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)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
  • 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.

beans and lentilsCooking 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!)

vegan black bean sweet potato kale quesadilla closeupBenefits 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.

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Conquering the Plant-Based Kitchen: Cooking Whole Grains

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Reaping the Benefits of Whole Grains Every Day

Whole grains are a staple of plant-based diets, but if you’ve ever wound up with a pan full of gummy rice, you know cooking them the right way is essential if you actually want to enjoy what you’re eating.

No worries, we’ve all been there! (Ask me about my adventures with buckwheat, for example…) Fortunately, cooking whole grains isn’t hard once you know the right amount of water to use, the optimal length of time to cook each grain and the how to achieve a deliciously fluffy texture. You’re probably already familiar with a few like oats and brown rice, or you might be new to the world of whole grains. Either way, let me share what I’ve learned experimenting with plant-based cooking and few tips from other talented cooks to help you master the technique of cooking perfect grains.

many whole grains (and beans)Why Whole Grains?

I covered the basics of whole grains in my previous post about “carbs,” but here’s a quick run-down of the reasons to make them part of your daily diet:

  • A whole grain has three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm
  • The majority of the nutrients, including protein, minerals, B vitamins and fiber, are in the bran and germ
  • Refined (“white”) grains are stripped of one or more parts and the associated nutrients
  • “Enriched” grains only have a handful of nutrients added back after refining

Most of the grains in the standard Western diet are refined, but switching to whole grains brings back all the missing nutrients and gives your body the fuel it needs to stay healthy instead of delivering a bunch of empty calories. When you eat grains their whole forms you:

  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Lower your risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower your risk of digestive cancers
  • Boost your gut health
  • Reach your weight goals more easily

This is all thanks to making one simple swap in your diet. As part of a completely plant-based lifestyle, whole grains contribute to a balanced diet and complement the benefits of everything else you eat.

Cooking Whole Grains: The Basics

The most common method for cooking whole grains is to simmer them in water on the stovetop. To add extra flavor, use low-sodium vegetable broth instead of water or toast the grains over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, before cooking. Toasted grains are done when they smell nutty and are lightly browned.

For basic stovetop cooking:

  • Place the grains and water in a saucepan or stock pot
  • Cover and bring to a boil
  • Reduce the heat to a low simmer
  • When the liquid is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat
  • Let rest for 5 minutes with the lid on
  • Remove the lid, fluff and serve!

cans of whole grainsThe ratio of liquid to grains differs depending on what you’re cooking, as does the cooking time. Here are the basics for the grains you’re likely to use most often on a plant-based diet:

  • Brown rice: 2 cups liquid to 1 cup grain (2 to 1), 40 to 45 minutes
  • Quinoa: 1 1/2 to 1, simmer for 15 minutes, turn the burner off, let sit for 15 minutes
    • Note: Rinse quinoa in a fine mesh sieve first to remove the natural bitter coating
  • Millet: 2 to 1, 20 to 25 minutes
  • Barley (pearled): 2 to 1, 40 to 45 minutes
  • Oats (rolled): 2 to 1, 5 to 10 minutes
  • Oats (steel cut): 3 to 1, 20 to 30 minutes

If you want to cook large batches of grains, a pressure cooker or Instant Pot is more efficient. Liquid ratios and times are different from stovetop cooking, so consult the booklet that came with your cooker for the best cooking method. You can also refer to the charts for whole grains and rice from Hip Pressure Cooking, which I find to be the most accurate of all I’ve used.

What Whole Grains are Best to Eat?

wheat stalk and grains featureIf a client asked me this, I honestly would have to say, “ALL of them!” Every time you choose whole grains over refined, you do your body a huge favor. But there are some grains that are more nutrient-dense than others, meaning they have more nutrients per calorie. Whether you’re completely plant-based already or making the switch, you want to include as many nutrient-dense foods as possible to maximize the health benefits of your diet.

When it comes to whole grains, the best choices include:

  • Whole rye
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Whole wheat
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth

What makes these the best? They’re high in fiber, trace minerals and antioxidants, and they contain ample protein. Many of these grains are also beneficial if you’re trying to keep your blood sugar in check.

Getting Started with Grains

Use the cooking guidelines in this post to experiment with as many whole grains as you want. If you have access to a store with a bulk department, such as Whole Foods or a co-op, spend some time browsing. Pick up a few grains you’ve never had before, and try adding them to meals or experimenting with recipes like these:

The USDA Dietary Guidelines suggest 5 to 8 servings of whole grains per day, and the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recommends at least five. A serving works out to about 1/2 cup cooked grains, 1 slice of bread, 1/2 of a bagel or 1/2 of an English muffin. Whole grain pasta serving sizes vary, but the most common is 2 ounces of dry pasta.

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Starting Your Day the Plant-Based Way — Healthy Vegan Breakfasts Made Easy

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You’ve made the leap and gone plant-based, but now breakfast is a big question mark. With bacon and eggs off the menu, what is there to eat?

Before you panic and rush to the drive-thru, remind yourself why you decided to stop eating animal foods. Bacon is on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of processed meats to avoid due to its potential to cause cancer, and the risk goes up when the meat is fried. Adding eggs increases heart disease risk by as much as 40 percent and makes you 29 percent more likely to develop diabetes. Slap it all on a refined white bun, and you have a recipe for chronic health problems with a side of digestive distress.

A balanced breakfast combines complex carbs, fresh fruits or veggies, clean proteins and healthy fats to deliver the nutrients you need for energy and breakfast satisfaction on a plant-based diet. What does it all look like when you put it into practice? This guide walks you through a typical whole food breakfast so that you can make healthy, delicious choices every morning.

Get Creative with Carbs

After a whole night without food, your body needs nourishment. Unlike proteins and fats, carbohydrates are efficient energy sources and are the body’s preferred fuel. Any plant-based breakfast should include a healthy helping of “carbs.” Your body breaks carbs down and uses the resulting glucose to create energy. Leftover glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen and turned back into glucose when more energy is required.

  • Serving size:½ cup cooked grains, 1 slice bread, ½ English muffin, 1 small bagel
  • Focus on: Whole, intact grains or breads made from sprouted grains
  • Avoid: Refined grains, refined sweeteners, added salt, chemical or artificial additives

healthy plant-based fruit bowl breakfastVary Your Veggies (and Fruits)

Savory food isn’t just for dinner! Filling your plate with veggies at breakfast is a great way to get on the right track for the rest of the day. Fruit satisfies your natural sweet tooth without the inevitable sugar rush you get from boxed cereal or pancakes drenched in maple syrup.

Eating fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables for breakfast (or any meal) gives your body an infusion of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in their natural states. When consumed whole and unprocessed, these foods form a complete package in which all the nutrients work together in ways that aren’t possible with the synthetic forms found in “enriched” products. Mixing veggies and fruits with grains at breakfast gives you additional healthy carbohydrates to power your day.

  • Serving size: ½ cup chopped or 1 medium piece of fruit,1/4 cup dried fruit, ½ cup raw or cooked crunchy/starchy veggies, 1 cup raw leafy veggies
  • Focus on: Eating a variety of colors, experimenting with different combinations, seasonal foods
  • Avoid: Processed fruit or vegetable juices, dried fruit with added oil or sugar, canned fruit in syrup, frozen vegetables with sauce or salt

Pack in Powerful Proteins

You don’t have to chug a shake made with dubious powdered ingredients to get a healthy helping of protein with your morning meal. Beans and legumes deliver the biggest protein bang for your buck on a plant-based diet without any of the hormones, chemicals or additives found in meats and commercial protein powders.

It may sound strange to eat beans at breakfast, but English, Mexican, Ethiopian and other cultures regularly include them in the morning meal. Adding beans or foods made from beans, such as tempeh, to your breakfast plate provides essential amino acids to:

  • Help muscles recover after an early workout
  • Produce enzymes to power important chemical reactions in your body
  • Make hormones
  • Maintain healthy skin and hair
  • Transport nutrients around the body

Although it’s not necessary to obsess over protein intake on a plant-based diet, a big helping of breakfast beans makes the meal heartier and more satisfying.

  • Serving size: ½ cup cooked beans, tofu or tempeh; ¼ cup dry lentils; 1 cup sprouts; 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast or ¼ cup hummus
  • Focus on: Unprocessed plant proteins, fermented or whole soy, varying protein choices
  • Avoid: Isolated soy protein, processed vegan meat analogs, processed protein powders, commercial hummus with added oil and salt

Don’t Forget Fabulous (Healthy) Fats!

Fat plays a key role in helping your body absorb certain vitamins and phytonutrients. Vitamins D, E and K are all fat-soluble, as are the carotenoids that serve as precursors to vitamin A. Inside the body, fats protect your organs, build cell membranes and insulate nerves. Your brain is also about 60 percent fat, and several key hormones require fat for production.

A serving of healthy fat makes a nice condiment for or accompaniment to your breakfast. Use your preferred whole source to make oatmeal creamier, add crunch to breakfast scrambles or boost nutrient absorption from green smoothies.

  • Serving size: 2 Tbsp nuts or seeds, 1 Tbsp nut or seed butter, ¼ of a medium avocado, 1 Tbsp coconut (use sparingly)
  • Focus on: Whole fat sources, raw nuts and seeds
  • Avoid: Processed oils, salted nuts, nut or seed butters with added oil and/or salt

Some Tasty Ideas to Jump-Start Your Morning

whole grain toast with hummus

Ready to become a plant-based breakfast champion? Fill your plate (or your bowl) with these delicious combinations:

  • Oatmeal with red lentils, spinach, nutritional yeast and hemp seeds
  • Millet and black beans with sautéed onions, bell peppers and kale, topped with salsa and avocado
  • Chopped fruit bowl with walnuts and cinnamon
  • Leftover cooked rice simmered with almond milk, dates and cinnamon, topped with walnuts
  • Sprouted bagels with sliced tomatoes, leafy greens and avocado
  • Chickpea or tofu scramble with your favorite veggies and greens, garnished with sunflower seeds
  • Sprouted whole grain toast with avocado, tomatoes and nutritional yeast
  • Large green salad with all your favorite veggies, cooked lentils and lemon-tahini dressing
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