Are you mystified by mung beans? Confused by kamut? Loopy for lentils? Don't be! We have the tips to get you cooking with these nutrient-dense, economical, and darn tasty ingredients in no time.
It Takes An Ashram
In the last issue, we talked about Planning for Your Newly Plant-Based Life, and boy howdy, did we receive some marvelous follow-up questions about those magical beans and grains we mentioned as being an economical and tasty staple in any diet. Your questions coincided with my recent trip to an ashram, where I worked with (and consumed) food in its most unfettered form. There, we enjoyed buckwheat with dates for breakfast, dal with lentils and mung beans for lunch, and kasha stir fry for dinner. In addition to helping the kitchen staff veganize some traditional Ayurvedic recipes, I picked up some fantastic tricks for preserving the most nutrition and bringing out the finest taste in our beany and grainy friends. Pull up a bean bag and take a knee.
Names & History: Beans, peas, and lentils (also known as "legumes" or "pulses") are seriously ancient superfoods. Evidence shows that peeps were cultivating these bad boys as far back as 7,000 years ago. What? Yes. While only a fraction are mass-produced for consumption, there are around 40,000 varieties of beans alone. And with sassy-names like "Eyes of Goat" and "Tongues of Fire," get ready to never be bored again.
Why They Rock: Nutritionally, beans boast a unique combination of protein, soluble dietary fiber, and complex carbohydrates. A cup of cooked beans can provide as much as 9 - 13 grams of fiber. Economically, they're cheap as can be. Time-wise, with a few prep steps, you can have a jammin' meal in no time. Environmentally, they're extremely easy to cultivate and sprout, and demand very little water or space. Good for you, your wallet, your watch, and the world. Check.
Why They Get a Bad Rap: They can cause flatulence, thanks to oligosaccharides, a type of sugar molecule found in cabbage which can be difficult for folks to digest.
Like you, I want to serve food that makes people say, "Yum!" and not "TOOT." Fortunately, there are some techniques that make cooking beans simpler and less gassy. For peas and legumes, you will still need to sort and clean, but you don't need to necessarily soak, as they contain little to no gas-inducing saccharides. If you're more of a canned beans person, you need only to drain and rinse your beans before you start working them in to your recipes. And, if you're working with dried beans, which are the most economical route, here are some tried-and-true steps for making the most of the little gems. Be sure to select organic options whenever possible.
Names & History: An ancient buddy of legumes and pulses are grains. For agricultural purposes, grains are often broken into categories like: Cereal grains, pseudo cereal grains, and oilseeds. You're probably familiar with wheat, rice, oats, and maize (corn), but what about some of their more exotic cousins like teff, millet, and amaranth? The first cereal grains were thought to be cultivated some 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. Whoa.
Why They Rock: Grains pack a lot of nutrients in a little, calorie-dense, easy-to-replant package. For struggling civilizations, a handful of grain meant a future crop was possible. For us, grains boast fiber, and some, like quinoa and oilseeds, like hemp, provide significant amounts of protein.
Why They Get a Bad Rap: In our process-obsessed agricultural system, grains have been bleached, hulled, refined, and productized beyond recognition, whisking away much of their nutritional value. Moreover, gluten-intolerance and Celiac disease have made glutinous grains, like wheat, unpopular. When eaten alone, grains can be deficient in the essential amino acid lysine, which is why many cultures combine grains with beans and legumes to form a more complete protein profile.
Praise be! Grains require less sorting and rinsing business than their bean counterparts, and still offer lush variety and many uses.
Have a favorite beans or grains tip or recipe you'd like to share? Spill in the Vegucated Schoolhouse Community Forum!