Legumes — sometimes interchangeably called beans, which more accurately refers to the seeds in the whole legume plant — are foods in the Fabaceae plant family.
There are several types of legumes, but all of them contain essential amino acids. They also have a healthy amount of fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and zinc.
That said, knowing what the common types of legumes are can help you choose the right ones for your taste buds.
I’ll describe these legumes, why I like them, and how to best eat them with complementary ingredients and exciting dish ideas. That way, you’ll know what to choose next time you’re at the grocery store or local farmers market.
Types of Legumes
So without further ado, here are different types of legumes.
Chickpeas, interchangeably called garbanzo beans, are one of the most common types of legumes.
They’re creamy and nutty, making them a versatile ingredient in many dishes.
I like to use chickpeas in salads, soups, and stews, or even roast them as a crispy snack. You can also purée them into hummus or make flour out of them for gluten-free baking.
In Mediterranean dishes, you’ll find people using chickpeas for both hummus and falafel, a fried ball of chickpeas and spices that is delicious in pita bread with tzatziki.
Overall, there are many places for chickpeas in common meals, and its high source of protein makes it a great substitute if you’re vegetarian, vegan, or simply looking to cut down on meat.
Lentils are another type of legume that come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, while the most common ones you’ll see are brown, green, yellow, or red.
I like using lentils in soup because they cook relatively quickly and don’t need soaking like other beans.
They also hold their shape well, so if you’re looking for something to add some substance to your soup without making it too thick, lentils are a good option.
Lentils are also common in Indian dal, a stew made of various spices, usually served over rice.
This meal is fantastic if you’re looking for something hearty but not too heavy.
Peanuts are technically not nuts — like almonds and cashews — but they’re often grouped together because of their name and appearance.
Instead, they are a part of the legume family and have a similar nutrient profile.
Peanuts are one of my favorite types of legumes because they’re so versatile.
You can eat them roasted as a snack, use them in sweet or savory dishes, or even make peanut butter out of them.
One of my favorite ways to eat peanuts is in a Thai-style peanut sauce, which is perfect for stir-fries, dipping veggies or spring rolls in, or even as a salad dressing.
And don’t even get me started on peanuts in dessert — pairing peanuts with ice cream, strawberries, and anything with chocolate is a winner.
Soybeans are another type of legume that is popular in many cuisines. They can be used to make tofu, miso, tempeh, and soy milk.
Tofu is a common meat substitute in Asian dishes because it takes on the flavors of the sauce or marinade that it’s cooked in.
It’s also an exceptional source of protein, making it a popular choice for vegetarians and vegans.
My favorite soybean dish is Indonesian-style curry with tempeh. Tempe is firmer than tofu, so it holds well in hot curries, soups, and stews.
Combining soybean, lentils, and carrots in the curry delivers even more flavor and a dynamic consistency that is just lovely.
Like soybeans and lentils, split peas are another legume that goes well in soups and stews.
They’re usually green or yellow-brown and get their name because they’ve been split in half after cultivation.
One of my favorite dishes growing up was my mom’s split pea soup. It was always so comforting and warming, and it still is today.
The key to a good split pea soup is to ensure that the peas are cooked all through so they’re nice and soft.
There are many ingredients that could go well in a split pea soup, including but not limited to:
- bell peppers
- fresh ginger
- butternut squash
Black beans are exceptionally versatile and appealing legumes because of their mild flavor and soft, creamy texture.
Black beans are black, as their name implies, and they’re a bit smaller than other beans like pinto beans.
They’re often used in Latin dishes like black bean soup, black bean enchiladas, or black bean taquitos.
Black beans are also a great addition to rice dishes because of their complementary flavors.
One of my favorite rice and black bean dishes is from Cuba — it’s called Moros y Cristianos, which is black beans mixed with white rice cooked in spices and broth.
You can even make a non-traditional version of this dish with quinoa instead of rice, which provides more fiber and protein.
Green beans are, you guessed it, beans that are green! But unlike small and round black beans, they are long and thin.
Green beans are popular in many cuisines, but they’re especially prevalent in Asian dishes.
For example, in China, they’re often stir-fried with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce.
Green beans are also common in Western dishes, like the classic green bean casserole.
I usually make green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup, but you can also use cream of celery soup or a homemade white sauce.
One of my favorite ways to eat green is to simply cook it with butter and add a bit of salt. Sometimes simplicity goes a long way!
Peas are small, round, and green, and they’re often eaten as a side dish.
They are different from split peas because you take them from a pod on the vine but don’t dry or split them. So essentially, they are the same thing but just processed differently.
You can cook peas in many different ways, such as boiling, steaming, or even microwaving. One of my top ways to eat peas is simply adding them to pasta dishes.
They add a lovely pop of color and sweetness that takes the dish to the next level.
Another great way to eat peas is to make a pea and mint soup. This soup is refreshing and light, but it’s also filling because of the peas.
Another popular legume in Latin-American dishes outside of black beans is pinto beans.
Pinto beans are slightly more oval than black beans and are brown. They’re often used in dishes like refried beans, chili, or even as a side dish.
I personally love using pinto beans in a three-bean salad. This dish is perfect for potlucks or barbecues because it’s easy to make and can be served cold or at room temperature.
Three-bean salad is also a great way to get in your daily serving of legumes because, as the name implies, it uses three different types of beans: pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans.
Types of Legumes
- Split Peas
- Black Beans
- Green Beans
- Pinto Beans
There are so many different types of legumes, and I’ve only just scratched the surface with this article. Other popular legumes include lima beans, kidney beans, and navy beans.
If you’re looking to add more legumes to your diet, I highly recommend adding one of these to your meal plan.
Whether you enjoy soups, salads, burritos, casseroles, or even desserts, you’ll be able to find a legume that’ll fit perfectly with your dish of choice in terms of flavor, color, and consistency.
Learn more about food on our blog, like the different types of flour you can bake with!
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