What are legumes?

Even though we don’t often think about it, meat is expensive and controversial. Even those of us who do eat meat don’t have to eat it every day.

Among the staples of a healthy, low-budget diet is the legume family (dried peas, beans, and lentils). Legumes have a high amount of protein so a meal with legumes has enough protein without adding meat. Doris Janzen Longacre advocated legumes in the diet because legume farmers produce more protein per acre than those who raise animals, feeding more people while disturbing the earth less.

How do you use legumes?

Whether we should use legumes in combination with grains or alone is one area of controversy. Some people say legumes don’t have all the amino acids required by humans so we should eat them in combination with grains or another source of plant protein. Some say it doesn’t matter. I have no official opinion on the subject, but I tend to eat more than one source of plant protein at a meal. I might have pasta with lentils, rice with split pea dal, or bread with black bean sandwich spread, for example.

You can use legumes as you’d normally use meat: in spaghetti sauce, stews, homemade veggie burgers, salads, soups, chili, sandwich spreads, and casseroles. Yum!

Where can you buy legumes frugally?

I buy my legumes at Publix because ALDI (the European budget supermarket chain where I shop weekly) doesn’t really have a good supply. Generally I go for lentils, yellow split peas, black beans, garbanzos, baby limas, black-eyed peas, navy beans, or pintos, just because of personal preference. Publix has a choice of brands, including the store brand and Goya.

How do you cook and store legumes?

People say legumes are complicated to cook, but I don’t really find that to be true. Although some people prefer to cook dried legumes in a pressure cooker, I currently cook them on a stove top, about one or two bags a week. Except for lentils and sometimes split peas, which I cook straight from the bag, I soak my legumes overnight in a pot of water. For no particular reason, except that it seems more sanitary, I put the pot in the refrigerator. Then I simmer them on the stove until tender, which can vary from 45 minutes to a couple of hours. They don’t need much attention during this time, but make sure the pot doesn’t go dry.

I keep stored legumes in the refrigerator for up to three days. I freeze all the legumes I can’t use within three days, dividing them between little plastic containers. Freezing saves lots of time and helps resolve “what’s for dinner,” because I know I can turn frozen legumes into dinner fast.

Tonight’s dinner

For example, tonight I plan to make garbanzos with spaghetti and broccoli, seasoned with olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Because the garbanzos are coming precooked from the freezer, the whole dinner should be ready in 20 minutes or so. For dessert, I will add some of the incredibly large, soft, sweet red plums I bought at ALDI this morning (25 cents), and I will have an amazing dinner for little more than a dollar.

Till next time, stay frugal and fancy-free.

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