HOW are you going with your legumes? I hope my previous column encouraged some of you to try incorporating some wonderful “musical fruits” into your menus. This time let’s explore a bit further.
In India and the sub-continent, a very large proportion of the population is vegetarian, consuming many varieties of lentils as well as chickpeas and mung beans (usually split and referred to as mung dal). In the Middle East chickpeas feature strongly along with broad beans.
Around the Mediterranean we find lentils, chickpeas and broad beans again, along with lima, borlotti and cannellini beans and in France the delicious Puy lentil also features, along with the haricot (navy) bean. Chickpeas and broad beans are staples in the Middle East; think hummus and falafels apart from many other dishes.
In China and Japan soybeans are turned into a number of products – tofu, tempeh, soy sauce and miso paste are the ones most familiar to us – and in their fresh green form are eaten as edamame. Soy sauce is used almost everywhere in Asia and tofu (beancurd) and tempeh also appear regularly. And don’t forget that the peanut is in fact a legume, and features in many dishes in Southeast Asia, satay sauce being the standout familiar to us.
In eastern and western Africa the peanut is also a staple but the black-eyed bean is indigenous to the continent and is used widely, along with cow peas, lentils and other beans adopted from other cultures.
In Central and South America the red kidney bean is ubiquitous but black beans (sometimes called black turtle beans and not to be confused with the fermented and salted “black” beans of Chinese cuisine) are just as commonly used. North of the border the Latin influence has spread via Mexican influence but before that, the navy bean was already on the menu in Boston Baked Beans, and in the southern states, Cajun cuisine includes various beans from the French influence there. Near neighbours in the Caribbean enjoy similar foods.
Eastern European cuisines don’t appear to use legumes, but I would love to hear from any readers with knowledge to the contrary. The same goes for Pacific nations and I would be very surprised if the climate of the sub arctic would support legume cultivation and consumption among the Inuit or Lapps, although with climate change anything may become possible.
Returning to Old Blighty, it may appear that legume consumption in the British Isles is insignificant until we remember the traditional children’s rhyme “Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old” so even though through history the rich dined on roasted everything from enormous beef joints to tiny quail, the majority of the population may actually have benefitted from an enforced diet of the much cheaper legumes and pulses (the “pease” of the rhyme). Baked beans remain extremely popular, and in fact the green pea is a legume and would have to be one of the most popular vegetables on our plates, from the bright green balls that bounce off the plate when we try to stab them with our fork to hearty pea and ham soup.
So from peas and baked beans through soy and satay sauce, from hummus and falafels through burritos and enchiladas to the enormously popular Cypriot salad featuring the superb marbled green/black Puy lentil, you may have been enjoying legumes without even knowing it. The heavy-as-lead bean burgers and faux-meat loaves that seemed to be the best that sixties and seventies era vegetarian recipe books could offer have made way for a wealth of delicious options, whether encountered directly from our fellow humans through travel or migration, or via the internet.
So as you have just read, most of the planet eats legumes, many as a major part of their diet. And with good reason … I’ve already described to benefits of legumes for our gut health and as a great source of low calorie, very low cost, filling protein. If you’ve dipped a toe in the water by starting to add some beans or lentils to your meat dishes the next step is to try no-meat dishes with legumes as the headline act. Soups can be a great start and now that the nights are becoming decidedly chilly they can be a wonderful warming entrée or, as often in our house, become the main event.
Accompanying my last column I offered a recipe to try and here’s another … Pauline and I were intrigued by the name of this delicious “stoup” (a soup so chunky it’s almost a stew) a couple of years ago and it’s become one of our absolute favourites; colourful, many-textured, jumping with nutrition, and with as much spicy “zing” as you want.
Serves two as a main meal or four to six as an entrée.
Adapted from a recipe by Jill Dupleix
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 capsicum diced
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas or 1 x 400g can, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g can diced tomatoes or 400g fresh tomatoes, chopped
750 ml chicken or vegetable stock (more oif you prefer it less stew-like)
Salt and pepper to taste
250 grams kale or silverbeet leaves, (weighed after coarse stalks removed), chopped
(save time by buying ready-prepared kale in a cello bag)
1 tablespoon harissa paste
- Heat oil in large saucepan, cook onion for 5 minutes till softened.
- Add garlic, and capsicum, cook for 3 minutes.
- Add cumin, stir through, cook one minute.
- Add chickpeas, tomatoes, stock, salt and pepper, and bring to the boil.
- Simmer gently for 10 minutes.
- Stir chopped kale/silverbeet leaves into soup and simmer for a just a few minutes until wilted but still bright green.
- Add half the harissa paste and stir through.
- Serve soup into bowls and top with remaining harissa paste.
- You can buy harissa paste ready made or make it from powder according to instructions on packet. (If harissa isn’t available use any chilli sauce, or if you don’t like chilli add freshly ground black pepper to serve)
- To make a substantial meal, toast sourdough bread and place one slice in each bowl. Ladle the soup over, top with quartered egg wedges, 1 tablespoon capers and the rest of the harissa paste, drizzle with olive oil and serve.
- Green (curly) kale gives the best appearance and texture but you can use any green leaves with stalks removed; silverbeet, asian greens, spinach, Tuscan kale/cavolo nero.
- Dairy free, vegan (if vegetable stock used and eggs not used).
- Gluten free (if gluten free bread, stock and harissa paste used)