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How to cook with beans and pulses

How to cook with beans and pulses

‘Beans, beans, good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you…’

There is a lot of truth behind this schoolyard ditty, and no, it’s not what eating a lot of beans will do for your rear end. These tiny parcels of protein are high in iron, Niacin, Thiamin, Riboflavin, B6 vitamins, fibre and complex carbohydrates - and did we mention they’re cholesterol free?

If you want to reduce the bad cholesterol in your diet but keep your protein and iron intake high, try swapping meat for beans or pulses in your meals a couple of times a week. Whether you use them dried or canned, beans and pulses are a great way to bulk up your summer salads and winter stews.

We’ve sussed out the best ways to use some of the more common varieties you’ll find at the supermarket:

Kidney Beans

This bean has a full-bodied flavour, and they’re most commonly used in Mexican chilli dishes. Try a meat free burrito with kidney beans, or add them to a homemade chilli con carne – minus the carne!

Borlotti Beans

These beans have a meaty chestnut flavour. Use them to make a delicious low-fat homemade baked beans: fry one chopped brown onion in a little olive oil in a saucepan, add a sprinkle of paprika, two 400g cans of borlotti beans, one 400g can of crushed tomatoes and a generous helping of tomato paste. Heat up and serve with thick crunchy toast and a sprig or two of parsley for a quick dinner or a special weekend brekky.

Cannellini Beans

The mild nutty flavour and creamy texture of cannellini beans is a perfect match with canned tuna in salads and pastas. Try cannellini beans and tuna stirred through baby spinach with chilli, olives, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and splash of olive oil for a heart-healthy Mediterranean salad.


Sometimes referred to as Garbanzo beans in foreign recipes books, these nutty flavoured beans go well in soups and salads and tend to hold their shape better than other nuts after cooking. They’re most commonly found as the main ingredient in falafels and hummus, and go well in place of meat in Moroccan style tagines. Make a quick and healthy chickpea salad by adding a can of chickpeas to baby spinach, sliced red onion, tomato, parsley and a squeeze of lemon.


These pulses come in a range of colours, from black to orange, red and green. Lentils are the primary ingredient in the staple dish of northern India, dhal, and only second to soybeans in their protein content. Boost the protein value of your soups by throwing in some dried lentils, or try mashing cooked lentils with some spices to form delicious meat-free patties.

Butter Beans

Also known as Lima beans, these large white beans have a smooth, creamy and slightly sweet flavour. They make a great addition to soups, casseroles, salads and stews. Use butter beans to make a protein-packed toast topper: mash butter beans, chopped avocado, basil and a crumbling of feta, and spread generously onto thickly sliced sourdough for an easy brunch that’s sure to win compliments.

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