Dry Hard

Dry pulses, the seeds of several legumes are inexpensive but take time to cook, which uses time and personal energy, and fuel or power. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recognizes 11 types of pulses harvested as dry grains: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes (not elsewhere specified). Split pulses are commonly called grams. Some whole pulses are called grams. It depends on the source of information.

Cooking dry beans was a matter of folk wisdom, and became difficult and obscure through the 20th century. The food industry was able to cook dry beans and present them as precooked in cans and in restaurant supply. They emerged in pastoral, local, and vegetable focussed recipes. Some recipes focussed on traditional methods such as ceramic cooking vessels. Paula Wolfert and others writers who wrote about Mediterranean (southern Europe, the Aegean countries, the Levant and North Africa) cooking introduced dishes and techniques that fell out of favour, to be reintroduced in popular books by Ottolenghi in the early 21st century. Others used the stove and pots of the 20th century. Others used slow cookers and pressure cookers; even microwave cooking. Anything that would braise or boil dry beans.

Green beans, string beans, soybeans and some green peas are not dry beans.

Lentils are variants of one or two species in the genus Lens. They have a flat, disk-like shape. In the North American grocery market, the common products are large brown and green lentils grown in the USA and Canada, noted in the Lentil#Types section on the Wikipedia page.

Peas are round; variants of Pisum sativa. Chickpeas are in the genus Cicer. White chickpeas (garbanzo bean; Egyptian pea; kabuli chana) have been grown, cooked and consumed around the Mediteannean and in Asia as far east and south as India for a few millenia of recorded history. In India, dark chickpeas (aka bengal gram) have been cultivated since before recorded history.

Most kidney-shaped or oval beans are variants of Phaseolus vulgraris, a pulse that evolved in South and Central America. The American variants include pinto, navy, Great Northern, lima, red kidney, cranberry and black turtle beans. Phaseolus has travelled and been modified and used in European and Indian agriculture and cooking. Cannellini beans (white kidney), and Great Northern beans were adopted in Italian, Mediterannean, and European cooking and agriculture. Red Kidney beans have become a north Indian food. Some sources recite old botanical taxonomy and refer to some European and Asian dry beans as Phaseolus. Broad beans, and faba (or fava) beans are vetches (Vicia faba); Lupini beans are lupins. Broad beans and lupins are the original Meditaranean and European dried beans.

Canned beans are cooked to a point, canned, and cooked in the can at high temperature. Canned beans are high in sodium, except for some brands.

In Indian cooking, dal may refer to small pulses: lentils, urad beans, mung beans, and pigeon peas. It may include split dark chickpeas and whole chickpeas, white or dark. The term covers many pulses. This Indian cooking site explains and has images. I like Anupy Singla’s books. She explains the terms for whole, split and skin or skinless legumes, which I have summarized:

English namesDescriptionIndian namesBotanyCooking
Brown lentilwholemasoor dalgenus LensIndian lentils are small;
American lentils are larger
Red lentil;
pink lentil
split brownmasoor dal duhligenus Lens
Mung bean;
Green gram
wholesabut moong dalVigna mungo;
South Asian peas;
Mung beansplit, skinnedmoong dal;
duhli moong dal
Vigna mungo
Urad bean;
black gram
wholesabut uradVigna mungo;
South Asian peas
hard; long cooking time
Urad beanspliturad dal chilkaVigna mungo
Urad beansplit, skinnedurad dal duhliVigna mungo
Pigeon peawholesabut toor dalgenus Cajanus;
India; South-East Asia
Pigeon peasplitduhli toor dalCajanus
Chickpea (white)
Garbanzo bean
wholekabuli chanagenus Cicer
Chickpea (black)
Bengal gram
wholedesi chanaCicer
Chickpea (black)splitchana dalCicer
Cowpea
Blackeyed peagenus Vigna;
Africa; spread to
America and India
Red Kidney beanrajmaphaseolus vulgaris;
central American,
spread to India

It is important to understand the names as they are used in recipes. Ural beans can take a long time. There is a large difference between urad beans and urad dal!

Dry pulses last years. This can lead to problems – some are very dry and hard after time. It is hard to tell how when the beans were harvested, and when it can still be cooked. Dried pulses have to be cooked in water. Old pulses are drier and harder to cook. Age is not easily judged from appearance.

The cooking time depends on the seed, age, and cooking method. Many recipe books understate cooking time for some pulses, The age of the pulse cannot be identified easily. Soaking before cooking reduces the cooking time, saving energy and giving the cook some confidence about getting the beans cooked on schedule for a predictable meal time. There are varations – soaking in brine; adding baking soda to the cooking water.

Mexican and Central American cooks simmered pinto beans and black (turtle) beans in an olla in enough water to keep the beans covered in water through the entire process. The word olla is Spanish, based on Latin. The Romans had good pottery. After the decline of the Roman empire the olla – the bulbous cooking pot – was the common ceramic vessel. According to Rick Bayless writing in Mexico, One Plate at a Time (Scribner, 2000), cooking in an olla heated the beans and water to 205-210 degrees (F), just below boiling. The beans would be cooked for several hours. Little water was lost to evaporation. The beans absorbed much of the water, and the cooking fluid became a broth. With this method, the beans were not soaked or pre-cooked.

Clay pot cooking was used in every culture – ceramics predated metal cooking vessels. Paula Wolfert wrote about cooking in ceramic pots . Rick Bayless wrote about ceramic beanpots in several books. It was slow cooking. It used as little fuel or energy as necessary.

Dried pulses can be cooked in cooking vessels on home stoves. Stove and ovens became the preferred approach where hot stoves were workable, including Europe and North America. Stovetop elements and burners heat the contents of metal pots above the boiling point of water, even at the lowest settings. With stoves, metal pots and cheap energy or fuel, the prevalent approach became to soak and boil.

A beanpot or casserole (e.g. a Dutch Oven) filled with beans and water can be put in an oven; this is why some beans are called baked beans. An oven might be set as low as 250 F. to simmer the beans slowly; many recipes suggest a hotter oven. The constraints on slow simmering and baking are to start early enough to get the beans soft and well cooked by meal time, to use enough water, and to keep the heat low and steady.

Rick Bayless agreed in Mexican Everyday (2005) that a slow cooker was a method of cooking pinto beans, black turtle beans and some other phaseolus beans.

A slow cooker can cook pulses on their own – a simple slow cooker will cook dry beans in water. The simple device get the beans and water hot enough to simmer. Pinto beans take up to about 8 hours on low. Black turtle beans can be done in 6 hours on low. It depends on the slow cooker. Lentils only take a few hours in a slow cooker.

Some dal can be done with a few hours on low in a slow cooker – the true lentils. Other dal can take a long time in slow cookers – urad beans, rajma (red kidney beans) and chana dal (chickpeas). I have recipes that for curried chickpeas that cook, starting from dry (i.e. not soaked) beans, 12 to 14 hours on high. Split peas take time too. I add hours and/or use high when a slow cooker recipe says split peas can be done in less than 10 hours on low!

With a slow cooker, pre-soaking beans is not required, if you have time to cook them. Soaking beans allows a reduction in cooking time and permits using less cooking water as the beans will absorb less water as they cook.

A pressure cooker is a good way to cook dried pulses. There is a risk of overcooking split pulses which is a benefit if the cook wants soft texture. There is a risk of splitting the skins of larger pulses: so what. I like my beans cooked, not chewy. Modern pressure cooking cookbooks and resources have methods for dried pulses.

If chickpeas have been soaked, they take about 15 to 18 minutes on high pressure in a pressure cooker. Some books say 8-10 minutes but that only parcooks them.

A multicooker on slow cooker settings may not work – depending on model. The multicooker may be an electric pressure cooker (e.g. Instant Pot) with controls to slow cook. Electric pressure cookers can be relied on for pressure cooking. Not all electric pressure cooker multicooker models can reach a slow cooking temperature and maintain it. They have the power, but the designers of some models did not figure out how to use that power for slow cooker functions.

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