While cooking whole grains and legumes add a lot of nutrition and fiber to our diet, I agree with those of you who have written to say, “But it takes so much planning to cook those cotton-pickin’ long-cookin’ things!” True. But what I’ve found is that it’s really a matter of figuring out a system that works for you and before you know it, you’re including all this goodness into your menus without giving it a lot of thought! Today I want to share a few tips about cooking whole grains and legumes.

In a previous post I explained how to rehydrate dry beans, so I won’t repeat that info here. Instead, a want to share some random helps and hints for ways to save time, money and effort when cooking legumes and whole grains:

  • Since it takes quite a while to cook dried legumes and whole grains, I usually cook a fairly large batch. I might use part of the batch to make a bean salad, some to make into hummus, and I’ll freeze the remainder to throw into a big batch of warm soup.
  • Most legumes (except lentils and split peas) should be soaked for at least eight hours before cooking them. But if I didn’t remember to soak them the night before, I just bring them to a boil and simmer for two minutes; then, I let them soak for about an hour before cooking them. Why do I presoak the beans? It helps reduce gas (see next bullet point), allows the liquid to absorb more evenly, and shortens the cooking time.
  • Does eating beans give you gas? If so, boil the beans for 2 to 3 minutes, then cover and set aside overnight or for at least eight hours. At least 75-90 percent of the indigestible sugars that cause gas will have dissolved into the soaking water. Drain off that water, and cover with fresh water before cooking and you will greatly reduce the gas.
  • I love using my pressure cooker to cook up legumes! In the pressure cooker it only takes about 10 minutes to cook up cannellini or kidney beans and about 15 minutes for soy beans. (I’ve heard that there can be a danger of sputtering beans clogging the release valve…but I haven’t had any problems with that.)
  • Pre-cooking whole grains makes for quicker cooking at meal-time. I’ve found if I bring the liquid and whole grains to a boil (2 C. liquid for 1 C. grain), then turn it off and let it soak for 2-3 hours, the grains will be almost completely cooked. This works great with Steel-Cut Oats-bring them to a boil the night before and they’ll just need to be warmed up at breakfast. (Go ahead and cook up enough to have for several days, storing leftovers in the fridge). I used this method one Sunday before going to church…bringing some barley to a boil and then turning it off while we went to church. When we returned, the barley was all ready to use in a pilaf.
  • Sometimes after cooking whole grains like barley and brown rice, they are all stuck together because of the starch in them. If I’m going to use them in a pilaf or salad, I’ll put them in a colander and rinse the starch off with water. The individual grains separate making them easier to cook with.
  • I’ve begun using soy milk (or regular milk) for the liquid when cooking some whole grains.This makes it a complementary, complete protein since whole grains are complementary to both legumes (soy milk) and dairy (regular milk).

Yes, cooking with whole grains and legumes takes a little forethought. But if you cook up larger batches, you ‘ll have the ingredients ready to go for several meals. For instance, if I cook up two cups of brown rice, I can make a Mushroom and Brown Rice Risotto for supper tonight (recipe coming soon!), and have leftover rice to make Black Bean Patties tomorrow. If I cook up a pound of chickpeas, I can make Mediterranean Tuna Salad for lunch, Pasta with Chickpea Soup and Creamy Hummus.  When I’m in too much of a hurry to cook up grains or legumes and don’t have any prepared to pull out of my freezer or fridge, I’ll cook up some Lentils with Barley and Parsley, which cooks in about half an hour or I’ll make Barley Lentil Stew or Barley Risotto, which only take about an hour to cook.  I  almost always keep a few cans of legumes on hand for when I’m in a pinch. Rehydrated beans are less expensive and often have more sodium…but they’re handy.

I hope you’re inspired to make a healthy new dish tonight-or tomorrow, if you didn’t soak your beans before leaving for work today!

If you’re looking for a more exhaustive explanation about whole grains and legumes, I would recommend these links:





  1. 10-13-2012

    Many thanks for the hints..I really have to make an effort to cook the legumes..I know they are so healthy.
    Do gou have any healthy cookie recipes that are easy to make …with added protien…i have just recieved one in the mail today which I will forward to you.
    I am so happy that we are into this healthy earing.
    Just came back from the gym and had a protein drink…what an effort…
    Have a great weekend,

    • 10-13-2012

      It’s pretty challenging to find healthy cookie recipes-I’m eager to try the one you sent. We’ve enjoyed the Low-Fat Good-for-You Chocolate Cookies on my site (http://ciaofromdebbie.com/recipes/dessert/low-fat-good-for-you-chocolate-cookie-recipe-2/) though I have to admit that I like them best with Nutella in between two cookies…and then they’re not too healthy! I’m really trying to cut sugar out of our diet so I would definitely cut the sugar back in this recipe for Chocolate Cookies since we’re now accustomed to less-sweet things.

  2. 10-18-2012

    I’m fortunate that my husband loves any kind of beans and would eat them every day if I made them. These tips are very helpful and will motivate me to make meals with legumes more often! Do you have a good recipe for making a white bean stew type dish? I had this dish years ago and it was wonderful but I’ve never come across a recipe to make it myself.

    • 10-31-2012

      Debbi, I made a white bean stew a few weeks ago-got the recipe off the web-but it was in the oven for several hours. I doubt in Africa you’d want that. I really like the Provencal on page 61 of O Taste & See Some More! Also on my blog as Italian Bean Soup. The White Chicken Chili on my website is another good “stew” that uses white cannellini beans (http://ciaofromdebbie.com/recipes/soups-stews-recipes/white-chicken-chili-2/)

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