Turning to Plants for Protein

Filed under: Recipes,Special Diets , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , August 15, 2016

3 Beans4

These days it’s no longer uncommon to look beyond the animal to plants for sources of protein—plants like grains and legumes. You know: rice and beans.

We’ve long heard that the rice and beans combo makes for the perfect protein. And, yes, it is a great combo, so long as they’re in balance. Since rice is so much less expensive than beans, when cost is a factor rice tends to dominate the pair and then it’s not nearly as nutritious. And, of course, not all rice is equal. As you know, white rice is far less healthy a choice than brown rice.

If you’re looking to plant-based sources of protein to complement or replace animal proteins, remember that what we need to stay healthy are the nine essential amino acids that make up what is called a “complete protein.” These amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that our bodies use to manufacture essentials like muscle tissue, blood cells, hair, and nails among others. Will plant-based proteins offer this? No. Not entirely. But, the good news is that you can combine these “incomplete proteins” with other proteins in meals to create a complete protein. The exceptions? Quinoa (actually a seed not a grain), buckwheat, and hempseed are considered complete proteins.

Dragon beans

Generally beans tend to have more protein per serving than grains. I’ve always enjoyed them but I learned some cool ways to prepare them from  Chef Vince Schofield. Schofield pointed out some of the ways beans can be enjoyed. Who doesn’t love pork and beans—the saltiness of the pork and the earthiness of the beans “are just fantastic,” he said. Bean purees—think hummus, for example, with garbanzo beans—are the perfect mixture of creaminess and fat. You don’t have to be limited to garbanzos, though. Try making flavorful purees with Great Northern, navy, or cannellini beans—or black beans. Or riff on the mixture and turn them into soups. And then there are red beans, which in Chinese cuisine are often used for desserts.

I visited Schofield one day awhile ago and he prepared a very easy bean dish which showcases beans—in this shelling beans, which, fresh, cook much faster than dried beans. But, Schofield noted, any will work.

The inspiration for this dish, he said, come from humble beginnings and using what you have. Schofield paired the beans with animal proteins, but you don’t have to if you’d rather go vegetarian. Of course, the animal proteins take a back seat by providing flavor, not being the centerpiece. It’s a matter of giving them some TLC to transform beans into a hearty, comforting dish on a cold fall night.

This recipe literally took five minutes to prepare—but, you have to do some advance, if passive, prep with the beans. First, you must soak dried beans overnight. The following day, cover either the now-soaked dried beans or fresh beans in a pot with three times the volume of water to beans. Add one carrot, peeled and halved, one rib of celery and half an onion with the root attached so that it doesn’t fall apart in the water while cooking. Bring the water to a simmer—not a boil. Simmer the beans for 25 to 30 minutes if they’re shelling beans, an hour to an hour and a half if they’re dried. Remove from the heat and let cool. Only once they’re cooling then you can salt them. They won’t absorb the salt until then, said Schofield. At that point, you’re ready to make any bean recipe.

Beans and Harissa

Beans and Harissa
From Vince Schofield

Harissa is a North African hot chili pepper paste that can include spices and herbs such as garlic, coriander, cumin, dried mint and caraway seeds. You can find prepared harissa at international markets. You can also serve this dish with mussels mixed in. If you want to do so, 3½ to 4 pounds of mussels will serve 4 to 6 people as a main dish. Schofield also says that if you don’t want to use meat in the recipe, add garlic and onion or any vegetable paste you enjoy to add more flavor.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 3 tablespoons of brunoise mirepoix (two parts onion to one part celery and one part carrot, finely chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces lardo (cured pork fat) or bacon, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of harissa paste
  • 1 pound beans (shelling or dried), prepped (see note)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced and charred — keep the juice to use as well (you can also use preserved lemon pieces)
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

To create the mirepoix, rinse, trim and peel the vegetables. Then dice them into 1/8-by-1/8-inch pieces. Sauté the mirepoix in the olive oil until tender. Add the lardo (or bacon) and sauté until crisp. Add the harissa and allow the paste to blossom in the oil (releasing all of its flavor). Then add the beans and chicken stock. Reduce to souplike consistency. Finish with parsley and lemon. Salt if needed.

Eat with crusty bread.

Note: If you’re using dried beans soak them in water for 24 hours prior to cooking. If they are fresh shelling beans this step is not necessary. The procedure will be the same as follows: Cover beans with three times the volume of water to beans. Add one carrot, peeled and halved, one rib of celery, and half on an onion with the root attached so that it does not fall apart in the water while cooking. Beans only accept salt when cooling, so salt at the end to your desired taste.

Are your clients fans of beans? What’s your favorite way to prepare beans for them?

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