What food has the most nutrient value for your dollar?
Legumes are the under-appreciated group of food that includes dried beans, dried peas and lentils.
These pod seeds are low in fat, high in fiber and rich in many vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and folate. They are the cheapest source of protein in your grocery store and have a really long shelf life.
Yet they are not a part of many people’s diet.
“They give me gas:” If you are starting to eat beans for the first time, do so gradually. Just like exercise, too much too soon can cause injury (at least to those sitting around you). The gas and abdominal discomfort is caused by indigestible sugars in the beans. Rinsing canned beans or changing soaking water of dried beans can minimize this effect. According to the Mayo clinic, bringing beans to a boil for 2-3 minutes and then leaving them to soak overnight dissolves 75 to 90 per cent of these sugars.
“I don’t know how to cook them:”
Three words – soak-rinse-boil.
Soak – overnight is convenient, but 4 to 6 hours will do. No time? Lentils, split peas and canned beans do not need to be soaked.
Rinse – an important step.
This helps remove indigestible sugars that cause gas.
Boil – cover beans with three times their volume of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until tender.
This may take one to two hours, depending on the bean. Do not add salt or acidic ingredients (like tomatoes) until the beans are tender, as they will slow down cooking time. Canned beans are already cooked and may be added at the end of a recipe.
“How do you eat them?”
Legumes can be added to salads, soups, casseroles, burritos, or made into dips. Here is my favourite lentil soup recipe that even my dad, a meat-at-every-meal man, enjoys:
Turkish Lentil Soup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 medium tomato, chopped finely
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
1 1⁄2 cup red lentils
7 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 Tbsp dried mint
Salt and pepper to taste.
Juice of 1/2 lemon
In a heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook gently until soft. Stir in tomato paste, chopped tomato, paprika and cumin. Add lentils, rice and stock. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 30-35 minutes, until lentils are soft. Add mint and season with salt and pepper. Cook another 10 minutes. If it is too thick, add some more water or stock. Stir in lemon juice.
– Serena Caner is a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.