Dry Hard

Pulses; Dal

Naturally dry pulses, the seeds of several legumes are inexpensive but take time to cook, which uses time and personal energy, and fuel or power. Dry pulses last years. 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.

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.

Green beans, string beans and soybeans are not dry 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 and to split chickpeas. A recipe may include other pulses; the term covers many pulses. This Indian cooking site explains and has images. I like Anupy Singla’s books (I am not sure what whethet her Internet ingredient store is the most economical way of getting ingredients). She explains the terms for whole, split and skin or skinless legumes.

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

Cooking

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 – clay pot cooking. 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. 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.

A beanpot or casserole (e.g. a Dutch Oven) filled with beans and water can be put in an oven. This is the preferred method for 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.

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.

The slow cookers manufactured in the USA in the 1940s were beanpots: a crock, heated with an electric element, designed to braise food in liquid at low heat and slowly bring the ingredients to a sufficient temperature to make the food tender and digestible and kill bacteria. A slow cooker is effective to cook pulses on their own, as a bean dish. Rick Bayless recommends using a slow cooker for black bean and pinto beans, without soaking, flavouring the cooking water with dried herbs and peppers, and using the cooking water as a gravy. A simple crock pot type slow cooker will cook dried beans in water, in time. Pinto beans do well with about 8 hours on low. Black turtle beans can be done in 6 hours. Lentils only take a few hours in a slow cooker.

Dal can take a long time in slow cookers – urad are hard, rajma are large red kidney beans and chana dal are chickpeas. I have recipes that for curried chickpeas that cook, starting from dry (i.e. not soaked) beans, 12 to 14 hours on high.

Dried split peas did not cook well in a slow cooker, in my experience.

With a slow cooker, and time, soaking beans is not required. If the beans are presoaked, the amount of water in the cooking pot can be lower – the beans will not absorb water and expand as much as they cook.

A slow cooker recipe with pulse in a stew (or a chili) should be done either with canned beans or in stages, with the pulses done first.

I used a 6 quart Crock Pot with a removable ceramic insert and a manual off-low-high switch for years. It heated the ingredients enough: it created humidity under the lid and some bubbling in the pot; some ingredients would bake to the sides. I made stews and chilies that filled the pot to 2/3 to 3/4, cooked on low for 5-7 hours. I refrigerated or froze leftovers. These recipes require precooked dried beans or canned beans

I tried a recipe with dry white chickpeas once. The other ingredients were well cooked at 6 hours on low before but the beans were not done – rather crunchy. Chickpeas are said to need 3 hours or 4 hours on high in a crock pot or slow cooker. I haven’t tried that; I won’t. I am suspicious about recipes that say that chickpeas can be done in less than 10-12 hours. I have done curried chickpeas (using a chana masala spice blend); cooking time of 14 hours on high. I prefer pressure cooking to cook or parcook chickpeas before slow cooking.

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 – my reaction is: 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.

The multicooker (e.g. Instant Pot) is an electric pressure cooker with a metal pot or insert, and controls to pressure cook or slow cook . The element in these devices is at the bottom of the pot; the power to the element is programmed to maintain a steady temperature. They can reach a safe slow cooking temperature and maintain it.

Pressure cooker books that cover electric pressure cookers are useful for cooking with multicookers. Slow cooker recipes work in multicookers.

Using a glass lid in a multi-cooker on a slow cooker setting, the food is in a safe range but not as warm as the manual says for that setting. With the pressure lid on (and the valve open) the food cooks hotter; often more than the manual says. The device does not give the cook as much control of temperature and time as may be assumed.