Legumes: peas, beans and lentils — the new carbohydrate

Peas, beans and lentils have been a nutritious staple for thousands of years. The remnants of these foodstuffs, also called pulses or legumes, have been found in ancient settlements in Egypt, Peru and East Indian civilizations.

by Dorothy Krupnick — 

Peas, beans and lentils have been a nutritious staple for thousands of years. The remnants of these foodstuffs, also called pulses or legumes, have been found in ancient settlements in Egypt, Peru and East Indian civilizations. They are the edible seeds of plants, which are high in soluble fiber and protein, and are low in fat. The USDA food pyramid encourages us to consume these great sources of foliate, iron and zinc.

Why haven’t Westerners become acquainted with these unique foods, which are a common staple in cuisines around the world? Maybe it is the preponderance of quick fix foods in our culture as well as the diminished enthusiasm to cook our meals from scratch. Lentils, chickpeas and beans fit the bill for easy cooking and assembly. It can be as simple as opening a can and reheating the beans or cooking the dried legumes for 30 to 45 minutes.

With diabetes and coronary artery disease on the rise in our culture, it does behoove us to incorporate these staples in our menu planning. They are cholesterol-free, low in fat and contribute to lower glucose levels. These low-glycemic foods do not spike the blood sugar, as potatoes and rice do.

In a 2005 study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nine adults with Type 2 diabetes ate either dried peas or potatoes as part of a mixed meal. Their blood glucose and insulin levels were lower after the meal with the legumes than with potatoes. A different study

illustrated that eating chickpea flour-based foods had lower glucose and insulin levels than those eating wheat bran or white bread.

Other health benefits of legumes include utilizing them as substitutes for wheat in a gluten-free diet when celiac disease is present. Legumes do not contain gluten, a protein in wheat and other grains which causes an inflammatory condition in the small intestine.

The following are three recipes illustrating these groups of peas, beans and lentils in a side dish. The chaat is an Indian snack with chickpeas, tamarind chutney and potato, which can be served as a salad or wrapped in a pita bread. The spicy red lentil salad is perfect for a picnic and the sautéed Swiss chard with cannelloni beans is a perfect Italian side dish.

Indian Chickpea, Tamarind and Potato Chaat

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 cans drained chickpeas
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind chutney (at gourmet grocers)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup boiled diced potatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1 cup crushed tortilla chips or Indian pooris bread
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Instructions:

Mix all ingredients together and serve immediately.

 

Spicy Red Lentil Salad 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 scallions chopped
  • 1 red pepper chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tomatoes chopped

Instructions:

Combine red lentils and water and bring to boil in a medium saucepan and cook until tender, or about 30 minutes. Drain excess water from lentils and place in bowl with all ingredients and mix together. Chill 2-3 hours and serve.

 

Swiss Chard and Cannelloni Beans with Garlic and Oil

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Swiss chard
  • 1 can white cannelloni beans drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Remove backs and ribs from Swiss chard leaves. Chop leaves coarsely. In an 8 qt. stockpot, heat olive oil with red pepper flakes and add Swiss chard, garlic, salt, lemon juice and beans. Mix with spoon and cook leaves until wilted, about 5 minutes. Immediate-ly serve in a bowl, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

 

Dorothy Krupnick, a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition, is employed at Casa Grande Regional Medical Center and counsels patients on medical nutrition therapy. She owned Gourmet Catering Inc. in New York City and now provides private cooking classes and diet counseling. 480-219-1731.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 4, August/September 2006.

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