How to Cook Dried Beans, Lentils and Pulses

Dried beans, and legumes such as lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas and the rest contain protein, iron and fibre and no fat whatsoever and ar, among the foods dieticians and nutritionists would most like us to eat more of. They're also low GI, and very cheap.

Most beans will almost treble in volume when cooked, but the length of cooking time varies depending on type of bean, age and size of bean, so cooking times are approximate.

A pressure cooker will cook most pulses in around 20 minutes but since many people don't have one this guide will give you a general overview.

Overnight method
Place beans in a saucepan and cover with 4 cups of water to 1 cup of beans. Soak the beans overnight in cold water. The beans will have softened but they still need to be cooked. Replace the soaking water with fresh water and simmer the beans for 1-3 hours or until tender but not soggy.

Quick cook method
Place beans in a saucepan and cover with 4 cups of water to 1 cup of beans. Bring to the boil and cook for 2 minutes, then leave to stand for one hour. This doesn't actually cook them but replaces the overnight soak by softening the hard outer layer.
Now they are ready to cook, return the pan to the heat and simmer the beans until till soft 1- 3 hours.

Kidney Beans and other similar sized beans simmer for 2-3 hours.
Soya Beans 3-4 hours.
Chick Peas 1-2 hours (Yum, fresh hummus).

Since beans require long cooking which uses electricity, cook several cups at a time and freeze them. You can add a frozen chunk directly into boiling soups and stews.

  • Ensure all beans are thoroughly cooked before serving
  • Kidney beans in particular can cause tummy upsets if not properly cooked
  • During cooking, a 15 minute period of rapid boiling is recommended for kidney beans.
  • Cooked beans should be tender but not mushy
  • A dash of oil in the water will help prevent foaming
  • Do not salt the cooking water as that will make the beans tough not tender
  • A pressure cooker will substantially reduce cooking times – if you have one, use it.

Lentils do not require any soaking or precooking, they can be cooked by simmering in liquid - stock or soup, or water until cooked. In many cases it is preferable to cook green and brown lentils in water first, and add cooked into the recipe so they don't suck up all the liquid in the dish or take too long so other ingredients are overcooked.
Split red lentils will cook in around 10-15 minutes, brown and green lentils take up to 40 minutes. Lentils can be used in place of, or as well as meat, in all sorts of dishes.
Red lentils make a great bolognese style sauce; brown lentils make delicious cottage pie and loaf type meals. We use red lentils as a mince extender, swapping 1/4-1/2 the mince with equivalent amount of cooked red lentils.


FODMAP sufferers should keep pulses to a minimum. Use the FODMAP app to work out safe amounts. Canned lentils have less negative impact on a sensitive gut. 

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