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Beans Are Good for You, But They’re Also Delicious

Think you’ve had your fill of beans? Try a new variety

Bean Dishes

Yes, all beans are healthy, with protein and fiber. But bean flavors, textures and uses range far more widely than many casual cooks might imagine. We asked chef Charlie Layton of Basic Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina, for eight of his favorite dry bean choices. Plus, we’ve added a few other varieties and tips to consider.

Before you get started working with dry beans, know that most varieties should be soaked for at least four hours in a ratio of 1 part beans to 4 parts water, then drained. In some cases, adding baking soda during soaking shortens cooking time and yields creamier results.

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If you want to use canned beans, try to find “no salt added” versions. Standard canned beans often have high levels of sodium, and rinsing them removes only some of it. And just know, their texture will be softer than if they’re freshly cooked.

Here are some varieties of beans to try.

Type: Adzuki

Bean Brownies

Native to: Asia

Flavor: Sweet and nutty

Best uses: Salads; sweet applications such as plant-based brownies

Cooking tip: No soaking required

Type: Great northern

Great Northern Bean Soup

Native to: The Americas

Flavor: Mild and slightly nutty

Best uses: Classic baked beans; add to soups or stews

Cooking tip: To skip the soak, use a multicooker.

Also consider: Other popular white beans include navy and the slightly larger and meatier cannellini (sometimes called white kidney beans).

Type: Fava/Broad

Fava Beans

Native to: Mediterranean and Middle East

Flavor: Creamy, earthy and slightly sweet

Best uses: Egyptian-style falafel; hummus; salads

Cooking tip: Add baking soda to soaking water to loosen skins. Remove skins from water after cooking.

Type: Black

Native to: The Americas

Flavor: Earthy and almost mushroomlike

Best uses: Served with rice; soups; veggie burgers

Cooking tip: Simmer with onion and garlic, or use a pressure cooker to eliminate soaking.

Type: Kidney

Native to: The Americas

Flavor: Slightly sweeter than white but very tender

Best uses: Caribbean-style rice and peas; chili

Cooking tip: Season after cooking.

Also consider: Red beans, popular in Creole and Central American cuisines, are generally smaller but somewhat similar to red kidneys.

Type: Lima/Butter bean

Lima Beans

Native to: The Americas

Flavor: Sweet and mild

Best uses: Sott’olio (preserved in seasoned olive oil); salads; succotash; veggie burgers

Cooking tip: No soaking required; add beans to salted boiling water, then simmer over medium-low heat for 25 minutes.

Also consider: Like oversize beans? Consider the gigante, popular in Greek cuisine.

Type: Pinto

Native to: The Americas

Flavor: Creamy, slightly nutty and smooth in texture

Best uses: Chili; various beans and rice dishes

Cooking tip: Skim any scum off cooking water; can also be cooked directly in a sauce.

Also consider: Other popular multicolor beans include black-eyed peas (which, yes, are beans, not peas), Anasazi and cranberry.

Type: Chickpea/Garbanzo

Native to: Mediterranean and Middle East

Flavor: Buttery, smooth and creamy

Best uses: Falafel; hummus; marinated; reserve can liquid/cooking water for plant-based egg alternative

Cooking tip: To make hummus/puree, soak for 12 hours using baking soda. Boil without salt.