Legumes – The Beans

Beans are an excellent source of carbohydrates, fiber and protein, as well as other vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy diet. Paired with grains, they provide all of the essential amino acids necessary for complete protein in the vegetarian diet. There are many bean varieties to choose from:

Adzuki – easily digested and slightly sweet, these small reddish-brown beans are popular in Asian cuisine and Oriental medicine.

Anasazi – easily digested, this purple-and-white heirloom variety is a sweeter substitute for its relative, the pinto bean. The mottled coloring fades upon cooking. Also known as Aztec, Jacob’s Cattle, New Mexico Appaloosa and New Mexico Cave beans.

Black – a tasty little bean featured throughout Latin cuisine. Also called Turtle beans. A couple of ways to prepare them: Black Bean & Corn Salsa, Cuban Black Beans & Rice.

Cranberry – a light pink relative of the pinto bean, mild in flavor, that light brown upon cooking.

Cannellini – featured throughout Italian cuisine, they are larger than Great Northern and Navy beans, for which they’re occasionally mistaken. Also known as Fazolia or White Kidney beans.

Fava – see Legume Choices: The Peas, as they actually belong to the pea family.

Garbanzo – a round, cream-colored bean widely used in Mediterranean cuisine, they are the staple ingredient of Falafel and Hummus. Also known as Ceci beans or Chick peas, though they are not a member of the pea family. One way to use Garbanzo beans: Ceci Penne Florentine.

Great Northern – large white beans that are mild in flavor. Much like tofu they will take on the flavors of the seasonings they are prepared with.

Kidney – available in light and dark red varieties, the dark red being more flavorful. A standard in bean salads, soups, chili, and many Southwestern dishes.

Lentil – neither a bean nor a pea, they are a legume unto themselves, though they are usually cooked and used in the same manner as beans – hence their inclusion on this list. Featured throughout African and Middle Eastern cuisine. One way to use lentils: Vegetable Moussaka.

Lima – large pale green-to-white beans, also known as Butter beans due to their flavor. One way to use Lima beans: Three Sisters Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings.

Mung – if you’ve eaten a long, white bean sprout, then you’ve eaten a sprouted mung bean. Popular in Chinese and Indian cuisine.

Navy – small, pea-shaped white beans that were a popular U.S. Navy provision once upon a time, as they stored well. Mild in flavor, they are the staple ingredient of Boston Baked Beans.

Pinto – named for their mottled appearance, like a pinto horse, they are consumed more than any other bean in the U.S. They turn somewhat pink upon cooking and are the staple ingredient for refried beans and the basis for many Mexican dishes.

Red – basically a smaller kidney bean, they are the basis for the Cajun Red Beans and Rice dish traditionally served on Mondays in New Orleans (often incorporating leftovers from weekend feasts and thought to have a restorative effect on folks who may have partied a bit too hard over the weekend).

Soy – a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids, the soybean is the basis for tofu, tempeh, and virtually every other vegetarian meat substitute product. There is much debate about the health benefits of this legume, in light of severe allergic reactions, presence of phytoestrogens (which are being studied for the effects on breast cancer in women and lowered testosterone in men), and the fact that 80% of the world’s soybeans come from genetically modified seeds.