Ways to Use Beans and Dhals

There are innumerable varieties of legumes grown in different parts of the world, and they come in various shapes, sizes and colors. Legumes have been in cultivation for thousands of years. There are tropical or warm-region legumes and temperate or cool-region legumes. In many parts of the world legumes are considered extremely valuable dietary additions because they constitute relatively inexpensive sources of nutrition — they are generally high in complex carbohydrates, protein and fiber, and relatively low in fat.

Not only are legumes highly nutritious, but they are very versatile, lending themselves to all kinds of dishes and combining marvelously with grains, vegetables and spices. They also taste delicious, with a buttery texture and subtly nutty flavor.

Legumes are a rich source of protein and are a staple food in India and in the Middle East. Legumes are classified as lentils, beans, or peas, and all of them are basically seeds from specific plants. Varieties of dal (also called dhal), often mentioned in ayurvedic cooking, are legumes. According to ayurveda, legumes are astringent in taste. They help build all the seven types of dhatus or body tissue, especially muscle tissue, which makes them especially important for individuals on a vegetarian diet.

In ayurvedic nutrition legumes are often a part of almost every meal of the day. They are also used to make desserts and snacks. The protein in legumes is a very different protein from that which is found in meat products, cheese, eggs, and fish. Vegetarian protein from legumes requires some effort to digest, and individuals new to legumes will find it very helpful to use spices that help digestion, such as asafetida (hing), cumin seeds, fresh ginger, and black pepper. Adding these spices to legume dishes will help to reduce any side effect such as bloating or gas that beans are often associated with.

It is also advisable to add legumes gradually to your diet if they are new additions to your diet. With regular intake, your body will adapt to them and enable you to digest them better and better. You can slowly increase your intake over time to levels that are comfortable for you.

The easiest to digest of all the beans is yellow split mung dhal. Yellow mung beans are green mung beans that have been hulled and split. This dhal helps to balance all three doshas and is the quickest cooking of all the dhals. It takes only 20 minutes to cook without any soaking time. Be sure to properly rinse the beans with water before you use them and look out for small pebbles or twigs.

There are three basic ways to prepare and use legumes:

  1. Legumes are soaked in water overnight and then cooked the next day by being boiled in water. Spices can be added while cooking, or a spiced ghee mixture can be added after cooking. Vegetables and grains may be added while cooking to create hearty stews. These legumes can be poured over rice or used for dipping flatbreads such as Indian chapati bread or Middle Eastern pita bread.
  2. Legumes can be soaked for several hours and then ground into a paste with a food processor to make dumplings, fritters, and desserts.
  3. Legumes can be ground into flours to make dough for breads and for desserts and puddings.
  4. If you plan to make legumes a regular part of your diet, you can invest in a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker will help speed up cooking times and cook many dhals without pre-soaking. It also helps cook legumes to butter-soft consistency, which ayurveda recommends for easier digestibility. Different pressure cookers have different time mechanisms, so you will have to experiment to figure out ideal cooking times for each variety of beans or lentils you cook.

The following is a list of commonly used legumes:

  • split mung dhal
  • whole mung bean
  • chickpeas or garbanzo beans
  • split chickpeas (channa dhal)
  • black bean, whole or split
  • black-eyed peas
  • brown lentils, whole or split
  • toor dhal
  • pinto beans
  • navy beans
  • lima beans
  • kidney beans
  • soybeans

Here are some recipes that demonstrate the versatility of legumes:

Fresh Bean Sprout Soup

Kidney Bean Soup

Spinach and Mung Bean Dumplings

Chickpea Salad

Savory Chickpea Flour Pancakes

Green Lentil Dessert Fudge

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.