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Top 7 legume choices and how to cook them

The legume family is vast and versatile. Here’s a guide to shopping for and cooking with legumes.

One small thing: Purée black beans, lime juice and cumin to make a delicious and nutritious dip.

When it comes to legumes , you’re spoilt for choice – there are more than 20 different types of legumes that vary in shape, texture, colour and taste.

Here are seven of the most common types you’ll find in the shops, plus how best to prepare them:

1. Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are small, round and beige-coloured with a creamy texture.

How to use them: Purée chickpeas, avocado and coriander for a tasty dip or add them whole to salads, pasta dishes and soups.

2. Red kidney beans

Kidney-shaped and dark red in colour, these medium-sized beans have a soft texture.

How to use them: Red kidney beans are delicious in soups, salads and rice dishes. You can also mix lean mincemeat with kidney beans for a healthy bolognaise sauce.

3. Black beans

These oval, medium-sized beans have a black skin and white flesh.

How to use them: Perfect for soups, salads and rice. Purée black beans, lime juice and cumin to make a delicious dip.

4. Lentils

Small and disc-shaped, lentils come in green, brown, red, orange and yellow varieties. Green and brown lentils hold their shape after cooking, while red, orange and yellow lentils tend to lose their shape.

How to use them: Lentils work well in salads, curry dishes and soups.

5. Cannellini beans

These white kidney-shaped beans hold their shape well when cooked.

How to use them: Cannellini beans make a delicious addition to salads, sauces and stews. You can use puréed white beans to thicken a soup, making it creamier without adding cream.

6. Split peas

These are small circular peas that have been split into two halves, and come in green, yellow or orange varieties. They become quite soft after cooking.

How to use them: Split peas are great for soups and curry dishes.

7. Mung beans

Popular in Chinese cuisine, mung beans are also known as bean sprouts and are found in the fresh-produce aisle.

How to use them: Mung beans make a crunchy addition to salads and sandwiches.

Cooking with beans, split peas and lentils

You’ll find both canned and dried varieties of beans, split peas and lentils in store; how you cook them will differ though.

Always rinse canned beans, peas and lentils thoroughly in cold water to remove as much excess sodium as possible. This will also make them easier for your body to digest. Canned legumes have already been cooked, so simply add them to your hot or cold dish and enjoy.

Dried beans, however, require a bit more effort and time to prepare. Always check that no small stones have made their way into the packaging, and soak them overnight. This has two benefits: they will cook faster (change the water at least once and add four times as much water as there are beans) and they are easier to digest . Once they’ve soaked, boil in fresh water until tender.

Dried peas and lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking and usually cook a lot faster than beans.

Here’s how long dried legumes will take to cook:

(After soaking)

Kidney beans 3½ - 4 hours
Red speckled beans 2½ - 3 hours
Small white canned beans 1 - 2 hours
Chickpeas 1 - ½ hours

(Soaking not necessary)

Split peas 40 - 45 minutes
Split peas 40 - 45 minutes
Whole lentils 30 - 45 minutes
Red split lentils 10 - 15 minutes


Canned vs dried beans – which is better?

Canned beans will definitely save you preparation time compared with dried beans. And the good news is they provide the same nutrients. The only thing to keep an eye on is the sodium content. Either shop for low-sodium canned produce or make sure you rinse them thoroughly in water – this will reduce the sodium content by as much as 40%.

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