Types And Varieties

The three most important types of dried legumes in Western kitchens are kidney beans, peas, and lentils. In addition, several other unrelated legumes, including chickpeas, fava beans, soybeans, and lima beans, play smaller roles on the menu. The following descriptions include most of the commonly available beans.

Kidney Beans

Most of the many-colored beans in the illustrations are types of kidney beans.These are all varieties of one species of plant—the same plant that gives us the common green bean.Their flavors and textures vary slightly, but their cooking and handling characteristics are similar, although some may require longer cooking times than others.

A subgroup of this family is sometimes called haricot beans (haricot is the French word for "bean").These are all varieties of green beans (haricots verts), which are allowed to ripen until the seeds are mature and dry. The members of this group are white beans of various sizes.The term kidney bean is then used for the remaining beans in this family, which have colors other than white.

The most common kinds of kidney beans and haricot beans are summarized in Table 19.1.


Dried green and yellow peas are the same peas we eat as a fresh vegetable, but they are left on the vine until mature and dry. They are usually split, with the hull removed, in order to speed cooking time, although whole peas are also available. Split peas cook quickly without preliminary soaking,

Black-eyed peas and pigeon peas are popular in the southern United States as well as in parts of Africa and the Caribbean.They are not related to green or yellow peas nor to kidney beans but, like regular peas, are often sold fresh in the pod as well as dried. Black-eyed peas are small white, kidney-shaped beans with a black spot where the bean attaches to the pod. Pigeon peas are small and round or oval, with beige skin flecked with brown.


Lentils are small, lens-shaped legumes.They have a shorter cooking time than kidney beans, even when whole, and do not need soaking. If desired, however, they may be soaked, resulting in an even shorter cooking time.

The most prized lentils are the tiny green lentils commonly known as Le Puy lentils, because the best ones are grown in Le Puy, France. (Note: Only lentils actually grown in Le Puy should be given this name. If grown elsewhere, they are simply called green lentils.) They have a dark green or gray-green hull and, unlike other lentils, keep their shape fairly well when cooked.

The larger brown lentils are the most common lentils in Western kitchens.They range in color from medium brown to greenish-brown.

Table 19.1

The Kidney Bean/Haricot Bean Family



Haricot beans

Navy bean Pea bean Rice bean

Great Northern bean White kidney bean, cannellini Soissons (swah sohn) Flageolet

small,oval white bean similar to but smaller than navy bean tiny white bean slightly larger than a grain of cooked rice medium-small white bean large, white kidney-shaped bean medium white bean small, pale green bean, harvested while immature and then dried

Kidney beans

Red kidney bean Pink kidney bean Pinto bean

Black bean or turtle bean Cranberry bean or borlotti bean Brown or Swedish bean Calypso bean Appaloosa bean

dark red-brown medium bean with tough skin pink-red bean similar to red kidney medium kidney bean with tan skin splotched with pink-brown small, black, oval kidney bean medium kidney bean, pale pink skin spotted with red small, oval, brown-skinned bean medium oval bean, white with black patches Medium kidney-shaped bean with black and white skin

Top row: navy beans, garbanzo beans or chickpeas, great northern Top row: black turtle beans, dried fava beans. Bottom row: Swedish beans. Bottom row: baby lima beans, cannelini beans or white brown beans, calypso beans, flageolet beans.

kidney beans, rice beans

Top row: red kidney beans, pink beans, appaloosa beans. Bottom row: cranberry beans or borlotti, Christmas lima beans, pinto beans.

Top row: yellow split peas, green lentils, green split peas. Bottom row: brown lentils, red lentils, black-eyed peas.

Red lentils have long been a mainstay in India and have become popular in the West only recently. They are tiny, salmon-pink lentils that have been split,with the dark hull removed. Red lentils turn yellow when cooked and break apart to form a purée.

Yellow lentils are small split lentils similar to red lentils but less often seen.

Continue reading here: Other Legumes

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