The language of dry beans is complicated. Botanical taxonomy and the language of farmers, markets and cooks are inconsistent. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recognizes 11 types of dry pulses, the seeds of several legumes, harvested as dry grains: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses not elsewhere specified. Split pulses are commonly called grams. Some whole pulses are called grams, depending on the source of information.
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.
Red split lentils also described as pink or salmon are true lentils. Whole red lentils are also called brown lentils. Red lentils are called dal in the languages of Indian farmers, markets and cooks. There are black lentils. 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.
Yellow split lentils are hulled split moong beans. Yellow split lentils can be cooked like other split lentils and are regarded as dal in the languages of Indian farmers, markets and cooks.
Urad beans (black gram) and moong (mung) beans (geen gram) are Vigna mungo. Cowpeas and black-eyed peas are Vigna unguiculata. Black urad beans, also known as black gram are not lentils, but when hulled or split are also regarded as dal in the languages of Indian farmers, markets and cooks.
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 for a few millenia of recorded history. In India, dark chickpeas (bengal gram) have been cultivated since before recorded history.
Most kidney-shaped beans are variants of Phaseolus vulgraris, a pulse that evolved in South and Central America. The variants used in Central American recipes include pinto, navy, Great Northern, lima, red kidney, cranberry and black turtle beans. Phaseolus was exported within decades after European contact with South and Central America and used in European and Indian agriculture and cooking. White kidney beans and cranberry beans were adopted and adapted in Italian, Mediterranean, and European cooking and agriculture. White beans: Cannellini and Great Northern. Cranberry beans: Romano and Borlotti. Some sources recite old botanical taxonomy and refer to some dry beans evolved in Europe and Asia as Phaseolus. Broad beans, and faba (or fava) beans are vetches (Vicia faba); Lupini beans are lupins. Broad beans and lupins are the original Mediterranean and European dried beans.
Red Kidney beans have become a north Indian food.
In Indian cooking, dal may refer to hulled split pulses – split peas, moong beans, red lentils. It may include whole small pulses: lentils, urad beans, mung beans, and pigeon peas. It may include split dark chickpeas and whole chickpeas, white or dark or even red kidney beans. It is important to understand the usage of names in recipes. There is a large difference between urad beans (small, hard black beans) and urad dal! This Indian cooking site explains and has images. Anupy Singla’s books explain the terms for whole, split and hulled (skinless) legumes. I have a table at the end of this post.
Cook dry pulses uses reources including time,labour and fuel or power. 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. After the food industry became able to present cooked or parcooked canned dry beans in the retail and restaurant supply markets, cooking dry beans meant heating and stirring for the majority of home cooks. Dry beans became a niche culinary interest in the industrialized countries of Europe and America in the 2nd half of the 20th century:
- Some recipes focused 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 techniques almost unknown modern times.
- The fascination with travel fed culinary exploration of. For instance Books by Yotam Ottolenghi in the early 21st century .
- Works on central American cooking and south Asian cooking addressed the preparation of dry beans. Some discussed ceramics but most techniques involved metal cooking vessels.
- Recipes were developed for vegetarians and vegans. Recipes were developed for slow cookers and pressure cookers; even microwave cooking. Anything that would braise or boil dry beans.
Dry pulses last years. It is hard to tell when the beans were harvested – age is not easily judged from appearance. Old pulses are drier and harder to cook. Dry pulses have to be cooked in water. The cooking time depends on the seed, age, and cooking method. Many recipe books understate cooking time for some pulses. Cooking involves water, and heat. Dry beans can be soaked in water and cooked at the same time by simmering for a long time, soaked separately, or soaked and cooked fast and hot.
Clay pot cooking was used in every culture – ceramics predated metal cooking vessels. 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. Paula Wolfert wrote about cooking in ceramic pots. Rick Bayless wrote about ceramic beanpots in several books. 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. 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), at p. 192, cooking in an olla heated the beans and water to 205-210 degrees (F). The beans would be cooked for several hours. Little water was lost to evaporation. The beans absorbed much of the water, and the remaining water became a broth. The constraints starting early enough to get the beans cooked by meal time, using enough water, and keeping the heat low and steady.
Stoves 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 ceramic or metal beanpot or casserole (e.g. a Dutch Oven) filled with beans and water can be put in an oven 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 starting early enough to get the beans cooked by meal time, using enough water, keeping the heat steady and limiting the escape of steam from the pot..
The 20th century traditional slow cooker gets the beans and water hot enough to simmer. Slow cooker times dependent on the device, and the amount of beans and water, are often unreliable. Some dry beans – mainly small split lentils – will cook in a slow cooker in few hours on the traditional low setting without soaking.
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 – without soaking. His recipes use 6 hours on the traditional high setting. Other slow cooker approaches without soaking:
- Black turtle beans can be done in 6 hours on low;
- Pinto beans take up to about 8 hours on low.
Other dry pulses require different treatment in slow cookers; soaking and/or several hours on high: urad beans, rajma (red kidney beans) and chana dal (chickpeas). Split peas take time too.
A pressure multi-cooker – i.e. an electric pressure cooker (e.g. Instant Pot) with a slow cooker program does not work like a traditional slow cooker. Not all pressure multi-cooker models reach and maintain the expected or optimal slow cooking temperature
A pressure cooker will cook dry pulses. Modern pressure cooking cookbooks and resources have trust-worthy suggested times.
Soaking before cooking reduces the cooking time for dry beans. It depends on the seed coat (hull), size and the cellurar structures of the bean. Soaking is often assumed or overlooked in recipes and discussions. Some recipes, as noted above, omit soaking. There are variations on soaking:
- long-soaking in at ambient (room) temperature,
- quick-soaking in boiling water; Some recipes cook dry beans for a short time in boiling water before baking them’
- soaking in brine,
- adding baking soda to the cooking water.
Some recipes for some pulses aim to break the pulse down to a sauce, soup or gruel. Some will call for mashing a few cooked beans to thicken the sauce. Many aim to get the beans soft, but whole.
The list of dals and dal names:
|English name(s)||Description||Dal name(s)||Botany||Culivar(s)||Cooking|
Whole Red Lentil
|whole||masoor dal||Lens||Indian lentils are small;
American lentils are larger
|masoor dal duhli;|
or masoor dal
|Moong (mung) bean;|
|whole||sabut moong dal||Vigna mungo||South Asian|
|Moong (mung) bean||split, hulled|
duhli moong dal
|whole||sabut urad||Vigna mungo||hard; long cooking time|
|Urad bean||split||urad dal chilka||Vigna mungo|
|Urad bean||split, hulled|
|urad dal duhli||Vigna mungo|
|Black-eyed pea||lobia (lobhhia); |
|Vigna unguiculata||Africa; India; |
|whole||sabut toor dal||Cajanus||India; South-East Asia|
|Pigeon pea||split, hulled|
|duhli toor dal||Cajanus|
|Chickpea (black)||split, hulled|
|Red Kidney bean||rajma||phaseolus vulgaris|
spread by trade
India, north America
|Great Northern bean||phaseolus vulgaris|
spread by trade
|Cranberry bean||phaseolus vulgaris||central America|
|Romano bean||phaseolus vulgaris||European|
|Borlotti bean||phaseolus vulgaris||European|
|Pinto bean||phaseolus vulgaris||central America|
|Black turtle bean||phaseolus vulgaris||central America|