A simple dish of beans at a local Mexican restaurant reminded me of how tasty beans can be, with very little dressing up. The plainly cooked, well seasoned black beans were served topped with a little shredded mild yellow cheese. A few days later, at a synagogue kiddush, I savored a side dish of lima beans and long-grain rice flavored with fresh dill. Both bean dishes are easy to prepare at home. There are at least three good reasons why now is a good time to enjoy dried beans and peas. First, it's a good idea to pay special attention to planning nutritious meals before the Pessah feasting period begins. Legumes are healthful, providing vegetarian protein with virtually no saturated fat. Even in a dinner with a meat or chicken main course, including legumes makes it possible to serve less of the meat. Just the other day, I was braising lamb shanks with Indian spices and a variety of vegetables, and my husband added some chickpeas and split peas. Both kinds of legumes greatly enhanced the stew. Second, legumes are categorized as kitniyot and many people avoid them during Pessah. Using them now means you clear space on your pantry shelves for the Pessah products. Third, legumes are versatile. You can add cooked legumes to soups, salads and entrees to make them more satisfying. When you're in a hurry, canned beans are fine. But in fact, dried beans are easy to cook. It just requires a little planning to allow for an hour or two of simmering, but they can cook unattended while you do other things. You can cook them in advance and keep them for a few days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze them. Students in my cooking classes have told me they found it hard to schedule legumes in their menu routine because the custom was to soak them overnight before cooking them. Now many cooks agree that this is not necessary; soaking simply saves a few minutes of cooking. Although some chefs say there's no need to soak relatively "fresh" dried beans, if you have purchased them in a market with a good turnover, I've found that even beans I've had for a long time cook just fine by being simmered, without soaking. Legumes have a "winter food" image because they play a major role in so many hearty soups and stews, from Persian aash (mixed bean and noodle soup) to French cassoulet. In fact, they are also wonderful during the transition season when spring is just beginning. If the weather turns cool, you can easily make split pea soup as in the recipe below by using a mix and cooking it with vegetables and a little sausage - choose a lean turkey sausage for a lighter soup. On warm days, try the Sephardi black-eyed peas; serve them warm or at room temperature with roast chicken or as a meatless main course on their own. SPLIT PEA SOUP WITH VEGETABLES, TURKEY SAUSAGE AND DILL This satisfying soup makes a great lunch or supper entree. You can vary this soup by using bean and barley soup mix, or whatever legume-based mix you have; or use plain, dried split peas following note below. Serve the soup with whole-wheat or pumpernickel bread. Makes 4 to 6 main-course servings 4 8 cups water, or more if needed 4 170-gr. package split pea soup mix (3â„4 to 1 cup dry mix) 4 2 medium onions, chopped, or 2 leeks, split, cleaned and sliced 4 3 large carrots, diced 4 3 small boiling potatoes, diced 4 170 gr. turkey frankfurters, cut in 1 cm. slices 4 3 small zucchini, diced 4 3 garlic cloves, minced 4 1â„4 cup snipped fresh dill 4 Salt and freshly ground pepper Bring water to boil and add soup mix. Begin cooking soup according to package directions, adding onions and carrots during the last 45 minutes of cooking. Add potatoes for the last 30 minutes of cooking time. Add more hot water gradually if soup becomes too thick. Ten minutes before serving, add franks, zucchini and garlic and simmer, covered, over low heat. Off heat, add dill. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot. Note: If you don't have split pea soup mix, combine the water with 3â„4 to 1 cup dry green split peas and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add onion and carrots and cook for 15 minutes. Add potatoes and cook for 20 minutes. Add franks, zucchini and garlic and continue with recipe. SEPHARDI BLACK-EYED PEAS If your market carries frozen fava beans, lima beans or other legumes, you can substitute them for the black-eyed peas in the following recipe. Adjust their cooking times according to the package directions. This easy, low-fat dish is flavorful but not hot, hearty but not heavy. Serve the black-eyed peas as a side dish with any meat, or as a vegetarian main course with rice and a green salad. Makes 4 side-dish or 3 main-course servings 4 225 gr. dried black-eyed peas 4 1 Tbsp. tomato paste 4 3â„4 tsp. ground coriander 4 1â„2 tsp. ground cumin 4 1â„2 tsp. paprika 4 Salt and freshly ground pepper 4 Cayenne pepper to taste 4 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 4 1 large onion, chopped 4 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander or parsley Pick over dried peas, discarding pebbles and broken or discolored peas. Put in a medium saucepan and add 5 cups water. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat about 11â„2 hours or until tender, adding hot water by quarter cups if much of the water is absorbed. Drain peas, reserving the liquid, and put peas in a medium saucepan. Mix tomato paste with 1â„4 cup pea cooking liquid or water and add to pot. Add ground coriander, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer. In a heavy, nonstick skillet, heat oil, add onion and saute over medium heat, stirring often, about 5 minutes; when onion begins to brown, add 1 tablespoon water and continue to saute until deeply browned. Add to pot of peas. Cover and heat gently 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon chopped coriander. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, sprinkled with remaining chopped coriander. Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.