Cooking Legumes Like a Pro

Legumes are nutritious, affordable and practical—we could all use a little bit more on our plates. Although it’s handy to keep a few canned varieties in the pantry, their dry counterparts offer much more flavour versatility. Here’s a step-by-step plan for cooking dry beans, peas and lentils like it’s no big thing.

1/ Rinse

Spread your dry legumes on a baking sheet and inspect them for quality and debris. Toss the broken, shrivelled or damaged ones and remove any pebbles or rubbish that could have made their way into the lot. Then, transfer to a sieve and rinse thoroughly in cold water.

2/ Soak

Although not mandatory, soaking rehydrates the beans and reduces cooking time by at least half. (It is not necessary to soak smaller varieties like split peas, lentils, mung beans and adzuki beans.) Bonus: The soaking water will also remove some of the small fermentable carbohydrates (with fancy names like raffinose and stachyose) responsible for intestinal gas. There are two ways to soak:

  • LONG COLD-WATER SOAK Place the legumes in a large container (they will double in size) and cover with cool water. There should be at least 4 inches (10 cm) of water above the beans. Soak them for 8 to 10 hours at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if it is particularly hot. Strain, then discard the water.
  • QUICK HOT-WATER SOAK Place the legumes in a large pot. Cover generously with water and bring to a boil. Cook them for about two minutes, then turn the burner off and let rest for 1 hour. Strain and discard the water. (This stage can also be done in the microwave: Bring the water and legumes to a boil on highest power in a microwave-safe bowl and let rest for 1 hour.) Good to know: Not only does this technique rehydrate beans more quickly, it also removes more of the offending fermentable carbohydrates than a cold-water soak.

3/ Cook

Cooking makes legumes tender and more palatable. But even more importantly, it’s an essential step in neutralizing harmful substances such as lectins and protease inhibitors that naturally occur in legumes, making them easier to digest. If legumes are consumed raw (even after soaking), these substances could interfere with digestion and cause pain and discomfort.

Cook all types of legumes until they are very tender. To test for doneness, squish one between your fingers: The centre should not be chalky. Let cool for about 30 minutes in the cooking water (this allows them to firm up a little) before straining. There are several ways to cook them:

  • STOVE TOP Place the legumes in a large pot and cover with water (there should be about 1 inch/2.5 cm of water above the beans). Add seasoning (this is the fun part—see sidebar on the next page) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently—partially covered, stirring once in a while—until tender (see our cooking guide, right). Add water as required.
  • OVEN Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Place the legumes in a Dutch oven and cover with water (there should be about 1 inch/2.5 cm of water above the beans). Add seasoning and cook, covered, until tender. Add water as required.
  • SLOW COOKER Start by boiling the legumes for 10 minutes in a pot of salted water. Drain and transfer them to the slow cooker (be careful not to exceed half its capacity), then cover with water and add seasoning. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours. As with any other cooking method, the exact cooking time depends on the type of bean, so begin checking toward the end of the process. Drain and rinse with cold water. Note: Since lentils and split peas cook so much faster than other legumes, skip the boiling phase.
  • PRESSURE COOKER Add 2 to 3 tbsp (30 to 45 ml) of cooking oil (to reduce foaming) and 1 tsp (5 ml) of salt (to tenderize the skins and keep them from bursting) before filling the device to a third of its maximum capacity with water. Then, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cooking times, which are considerably reduced with this technique. Soybeans, for example, take only 20 minutes to cook, compared to 3 to 4 hours on a stovetop. Do not use a pressure cooker for legumes that generate lots of foam and easily lose their skins, like lentils and split peas.

4/ Store

Cooked beans, peas and lentils can be kept for up to four days in the refrigerator or six months in the freezer. .



1. White, navy, black-eyed, pinto, romano, red kidney

  • Soaking required? Oui! 
  • Cooking time? 45 to 90 minutes

2. Soybeans

  • Soaking required? Oui! 
  • Cooking time? 3 to 4 hours

3. Mung and adzuki

  • Soaking required? No! 
  • Cooking time? 60 minutes


1. Whole (brown, black, green)

  • Soaking required? No! 
  • Cooking time? 30 to 45 minutes

2. Red, split

  • Soaking required? No! 
  • Cooking time? 10 to 15 minutes


1. Chickpeas

  • Soaking required? Yes! 
  • Cooking time? 90 to 120 minutes

2. Whole (green, yellow)

  • Soaking required? Yes! 
  • Cooking time? 60 to 90 minutes

3. Split (green, yellow)

  • Soaking required? No! 
  • Cooking time? 30 to 45 minutes
* Sidebar adapted from

Seasoning Secrets

  • Bones, meat scraps, smoked ham rind or hock
  • Chipotle pepper
  • Fennel
  • Fresh herbs: bay leaves, cilantro, marjoram, rosemary, sage, thyme
  • Garlic cloves
  • Onion studded with cloves
  • Orange or lemon zest
  • Parmesan rind
  • Spices: cinnamon, cloves, cumin, smoked paprika

Did you know?

> Contrary to popular belief, salt does not keep legumes from softening.

In fact, the opposite is true! Adding 2 tsp (10 ml) of salt per 4 cups (1 litre) of soaking water helps tenderize the skins and speeds up the cooking time. Don’t worry about salty beans: The salt won’t be entirely absorbed and the water will be discarded.

> Minerals like calcium and magnesium, present in hard water, interfere with the softening of legumes.

Milk and molasses (both mineral-rich ingredients) have the same effect. If you have hard water, use bottled or filtered water for soaking and cooking. (Surf to Wikihow for tips on figuring out whether you have hard or soft water.)

> Acidic ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, wine, ketchup or tomatoes will add to your cooking time.

hese keep legumes from softening and slow down the cooking process, so it is best to wait until the beans are almost fully cooked before adding these ingredients to the recipe. There is one well-known exception: baked beans. When making baked beans, acidic ingredients are purposely added right at the start to prolong the cooking time, which leads to the sought-after caramelized flavour and rich brown colour, without cooking the beans down to a mush.

> Adding baking soda to the cooking water can cut down on cooking time.

But baking soda breaks down the cellular walls with such effectiveness that legumes can be reduced to a mush. And there’s a price to pay for speed: the loss of certain vitamins, especially thiamine. For this reason, it’s best to just be patient and skip this step.

The test of time

Keeping dried legumes for several months in warm and humid conditions (temperatures exceeding 25°C) can alter their cellular makeup and make them take longer to cook. To avoid this “hard-to-cook” phenomenon, store legumes in a cool, dry place and use them within one year of purchase.

Christina Blais

For Christina Blais, explaining food chemistry to the masses is as simple as making a good omelet. Holding a Bachelor and Master degree in Nutrition, she has been a part-time lecturer for over 30 years in the Department of Nutrition at the Université de Montréal, where she teaches food science courses. She has been sharing the fruits of her experience with Ricardo since 2001, during his daily show broadcast on ICI Radio-Canada Télé. And diehards can also read her Food Chemistry on our website. You can follow her on Facebook at @Encuisineavecchristinablais.