Is there a difference between canned and dry goods? Well, it turns out there is. Dry beans, lentils, and grains are not only super delicious, but they are also healthy and cost effective. But how on Earth do you cook them? Read on to find out why cooking from dry ingredients in bulk rather than reaching for a can might be the way to go.
In general, ingredients that you can cook from their dry form—beans, lentils, and grains—help keep our bodies healthy. Beans and lentils are protein sources that are very high in fiber and low in saturated fat. Fiber is crucial to a healthy body; it not only helps us stay fuller for longer but also helps clean out our digestive tract by removing things that shouldn’t be there. Saturated fat raises our “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and therefore increases our risk of heart disease and stroke. Many other protein sources cannot boast these two amazing health benefits. Additionally, canned beans often contain added salt. Too much salt in our diet can lead to high blood pressure. Dry beans, however, do not contain added salt, as they’ve simply been dried after being harvested.
Grains, especially whole grains, are also very beneficial for our health. Like beans and lentils, they contain lots of fiber. Check out this previous blog post on whole grains to learn more!
Canned goods are fairly inexpensive, but you can really stretch your dollar with dry goods. The following chart gives an example of how cost effective it can be to buy dry items (Note: These prices are from the most inexpensive local grocery store. Comparisons at other stores could yield even larger price differences):
Cost Per 15 oz. Can (Beans) or 3 lb. Box (Rice)
Cost Per Same Amount of Dry Item
If you opt for these dry items rather than canned each time you need them, your savings will add up!
How to Cook Them
So, dry grains, lentils, and beans sound pretty good, right? But to get all of the benefits they provide, you have to know how to cook them!
To cook most grains, you simply bring water to a boil, add the grains, bring the pot to a simmer, and then let the grains cook until all the water is absorbed. Each grain requires a different amount of water and a different cooking time, so be sure to look up how much water you’ll need and how long to cook it.
To cook lentils, combine your water and lentils, bring to a boil, and let cook until they are tender. Lentils will not absorb all the water like grains will, so drain the extra liquid when they are done cooking. There should always be a few centimeters of water covering the lentils at all times during the cooking process. If too much water evaporates, simply add more water to the pot and continue cooking.
Cooking beans is a fairly similar process, but they often take longer than lentils to cook. Therefore, it’s very important to soak your beans in water ahead of time. You can soak your beans for several hours or even overnight before cooking them. Then, cook them by following the same process as cooking lentils. Cooking time varies depending on the type of bean.
Tips and Tricks
- Cook large amounts of these ingredients at once and keep them in your freezer in smaller containers. When you’re making a recipe that calls for these ingredients, you’ll have them ready to go!
- Know the yield! All of these ingredients will expand when they are cooked. For example, two cups of dried beans usually yields four to six cups of cooked beans. Yields vary depending on the type of bean. Similarly, one cup of dry lentils yields two to two-and-a-half cups of cooked lentils
- Be aware of the shelf life of dried goods. If they are kept too long, they won’t become tender when cooking. In general, beans can be kept in dry storage for about a year, while brown rice should be kept for 6 months.
- Try the “quick soak” method of cooking beans: Bring beans to a boil and cook for a minute before setting aside with the lid on for an hour. This will dramatically cut down on cook time. Alternatively, cook your beans in a crock pot, and you don’t have to soak them at all!
- Make sure to sort through and rinse your beans and lentils before soaking them to remove any stones, seeds, or damaged/shriveled beans or lentils.
- Don’t add salt to your water when cooking beans until they are cooked; adding salt too early will slow down the cooking time.
- Check out these Food Hero Monthly Newsletters for more tips and tricks about beans, lentils, and rice!
Check out some of our favorite recipes from the Kitchen using these ingredients you can buy and cook in bulk!