The Benefits of Legumes (Plus a Recipe!)

Last Thursday, I felt really off.  I had a crazy headache, and by the time I went to bed, I was in a delirious fever.  Luckily, it didn’t drag out for days, and by Friday afternoon, my fever broke.  I was really craving some soup, so I decided to make this great Moroccan Stew.  It’s a variation on Dave Lieberman’s recipe (check it out at the bottom of the post).

It’s a wonderful vegetarian option that packs a punch from the great Moroccan-style seasonings.  The base on the soup relies on the legumes I added: chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) and lentils.  They are awesome alternatives to meat!  In regards to their nutritional value, there are a lot who claim legumes are high in iron and protein.  So I decided to investigate.

Legumes, along with other vegetables, are good sources of non-heme iron, which is less easily absorbed as heme iron, which is found in meat and meat-based foods.  It’s not to say that it isn’t absorbable at all, just less easily absorbable.  Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron, so whenever you eat legumes, squeeze some lemon juice on top or have it with a small glass of OJ afterwards.

In terms of protein, legumes are good sources but the protein is usually incomplete (like most foods), which means that it does not contain all of the essential amino acids.  But have no fear, they can be eaten with other sources of protein to make our daily protein intake complete.  Think of it like a puzzle.  Legumes can hold 50% of puzzle.  Throw in something like whole grains and you’ve got another 50% of the amino acid puzzle.  BOOM!  Complete.  I love eating this stew with brown rice. It makes it a super hardy meal.

So, if you’re looking for a vegetarian meal that packs a punch in flavor and nutrition, try this super easy recipe.  It uses ONE POT and it’s done!  I love recipes that require me to throw everything into one pot and simmer.  It makes my life (and clean up) so easy.

RECIPE: Moroccan Stew

6 servings
Cost: $1.50/serving = $9.00 total

1 large yellow onion, chopped
6-8 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 tsp of paprika
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of cumin
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
2 – 15oz cans of chickpeas (rinsed)
1/2 cup of dried lentils (or 1 cup pre-cooked lentil)
15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 lb of carrots, peeled and diced
4 cups of chicken stock (or more if you like it less thick)
1 tsp of sugar
2 tsp of salt (to taste)
1 tsp of pepper (to taste)
12 oz of baby spinach

On the stove, heat a large pot on medium for 3 minutes.  Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  After 1 minute, toss in the chopped onions, pressed garlic, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne pepper.  Stir to mix well.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients, except the spinach.  Bring the stew to a boil and immediately lower the heat so it is lightly simmering.  Let it simmer for about 30 minutes.  Using a potato masher, lightly mash the stew so that the legumes and carrots slightly break.  This will help thicken the stew!  Be careful not to mash them up too much or the great chunky texture will be lost.  Right before serving, toss in the spinach so it wilts and keeps its bright green color.  I love serving this over some brown rice (like it’s an Indian style dahl dish), but it’s great on it’s own.

It was definitely a great hardy stew to have while I was sick.  It gave me great warmth and comfort, and the flavors are truly amazing.  I hope you love it as much as I do.

Enjoy,

Thomas Ngo
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Dietetic Intern

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