So you’ve finally decided to start (or restart) that intensive exercise regimen that your physician, significant other or buddies have been heckling you to implement. Perhaps it’s that 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity cardio on the stationary bike, rowing machine or simply brisk walking.
Maybe it’s the twice weekly session with various resistance machines or free weights. Or perhaps you’ve decided to go full throttle with those CrossFit workouts. Good for you!
Starting (or restarting) is often the hardest thing to do as we only have 24 hours in a day and a third or more is already dedicated to the J-O-B, with another third to rest and recuperation. Add in the commute times, the kid’s soccer practices, weekly grocery shopping and who knows what else, and those last few hours (or hour) seems mighty precious for your personal time.
Well, along with regular exercise and the necessary rest and recuperation, the triad isn’t complete unless you also include proper nutrition. Oh, you’ve already tried altering your current diet by reducing animal proteins and getting more fresh fruits and veggies? Congratulations! But what? You say you’re growing tired of poached chicken breasts and baked fish? Well, fret no more, there are healthy alternatives that provide low glycemic index carbohydrates, animal free proteins and dietary fiber to boot! And that alternative is legumes.
The seed of the plant family Leguminosae, or specifically, the pulse (seed) of the plant, is what we commonly refer to as beans. And as I’ve highlighted in multiple columns, is a powerhouse of both macro and micro nutrients. Yes, they sometimes are known to cause those post-prandial musical side effects, but for those looking to bulk up their protein intake without overconsuming animal products, beans make the perfect alternative. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes 11 primary pulses, from dry and broad beans to chickpeas, pigeon peas and lentils all the way down to lupins and minor beans such as winged beans.
And one of my favorite pulses is the lentil. Why Lens culinaris? For starters its, simplicity in preparation, as lentils don’t need any pre-soaking like the other pulses. They simply have to be sorted (to remove the occasional pebble) then boiled for 20 minutes or so and you now have the perfect vehicle for soups, salads or even vegetarian burgers or meatloaves. And along with a healthy dose of protein, they also have a very good dose of dietary fiber.
I first sampled a version of this lentil salad some 30 years ago at the UCSF Medical Center cafeteria and since that time have created my own reasonable facsimile:
1 lb dried lentils (lentil du puy holds shape better than brown lentils)
1 small red onion, cut into 6-8 wedges, then finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and julienned (I use a Japanese mandolin with large julienne attachment)
Green onion, thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup (about 1/2 bunch)
Fresh mint, chopped, about 2/3 cup (all the leaves in an average bunch)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (I use half balsamic, half red wine vinegar)
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I usually add 2-3 tbsp of flavored olive oil)
Boil lentils for about 20 minutes (if I have dried mint, I fill a tea infuser and boil with the lentils).
Drain and rinse. Mix cooked lentils with vegetables and herbs. Wisk together next three ingredients then pour over lentil mixture (can actually add the vinaigrette of your choice as the dressing).
I first found the original recipe for this soup on the bag the lentils were in though it also called for sausage (it was a Sausage and Lentil Soup). Because it called for a package of Lipton Onion Soup mix, which contains quite a bit of salt and multiple flavor enhancers, I just used the main ingredients of Lipton Onion Soup — dried onion, onion powder and shoyu (yes, Lipton Onion Soup mix uses soy sauce) — and substituted chopped fresh mushrooms in place of the sausage for a “meatier” texture. And because my soups tend to be very thick, I call them “stoups.”
1 lb dried brown lentils
5 large carrots, peeled and medium dice
1 medium bunch celery, medium dice
1 & 1/2 lb fresh button mushrooms, medium dice
1 container baby kale, rough chop
1/4 cup dried, chopped onion
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp shoyu
Smoked salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
In a large Dutch oven, sauté the carrots, celery and mushrooms in the olive oil for several minutes until they soften. Add water until it covers the vegetables by an inch and increase the heat until the liquid reaches a gentle boil. Add the lentils, dried onion, onion and garlic powders, shoyu and salt and pepper. Keep the liquid at a gentle boil and cover cooking for another 30 to 40 minutes adding the chopped kale for the last 10 minutes.
I’ve always enjoyed those large, buttery beans in tomato sauce with oregano in Greek restaurants known as Gigantes. Since those large lima or broad beans aren’t commonly found in the 50th, I attempted to swap the traditional beans with lupini beans… not realizing that lupini beans take five to seven days of constant soaking changing the salted water twice daily to remove the bitter alkaloids found in lupin beans. However, a benefit of using lupini beans is that they contain a lot more protein than other pulses — in fact only soybeans have more protein than lupini beans. But if you can find extra-large lima beans or large broad beans, feel free to use those original pulses for this recipe:
1 pound dried large lima, broad or lupini beans
1/2 cup olive oil
1 onion, small dice
3 cloves garlic
4 large carrots, grated
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tsp dried oregano
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Soak the beans overnight in a huge bowl of water for at least 12 hours (or the 5 to 7 day soak/rinse ritual for lupini beans). Drain the beans and rinse them. Place them in a pot and cover the beans with water and then bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, put a lid on the pot and cook for about 60 minutes or until the beans are tender.
While the beans are cooking to tender, in a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the onions and sweat until the onions are tender, about seven minutes. Add the garlic and carrots and stir while cooking another five minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and the oregano and simmer about 15 minutes. Season to taste with kosher salt. Add the beans and gently stir into the sauce. Let the beans simmer on lowest heat for 30 minutes and then remove from the heat and let the beans absorb some more flavor. Check the seasoning again and serve hot or at room temperature.
So, along with continuing your regular exercise regimen and getting quality rest and recuperation, make some dietary changes by reducing some of those animal proteins with quality pulse proteins!
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.