egumes are an important food type. The many different kinds of beans that make up this family of foods not only put nitrogen not the soil as they are growing, but they supply high quality proteins, vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients to the diet. When legumes are eaten with grains, the body is supplied with the essential amino acids from which it can build the proteins needed to keep life going. Legumes also supply high quality fibre to the diet, another essential component for long term health and physical well being.
Legumes come in many shapes and sizes, and with various grains, form the dietary foundation for many cultures. In India dal (or dhal), a type of lentil, with rice forms a basic staple dish. In much of the Americas various beans, like pinto beans, with rice and corn or wheat flour tortillas, are the daily staple food. The Orientals use soy products, tofu being a popular derivative from soy beans. Peanuts, carob, peas, kidney beans, chick peas (garbanzo beans) red beans, mung bean—the list gets longer and longer as one travels the world and samples the many different types of legumes and the preparations they are used in. Bean sprouts are also a favourite way to enjoy these vegetables in various food preparations.
Basically, for the purposes of cooking, there are two different types of legumes; the small, lentil type, and the larger bean type. Dry dal, lentils or split peas cook easily in a relatively short period of time. Generally they will expand between two and three times their dry size. Put the dry item in a pan, cover with about three times the amount of water, and soak about twenty minutes. Some people will pour off the water at this point, and refill the pot with new water. It takes about thirty to forty minutes to cook from this point. Bring the water to a boil and simmer until tender, or until the legumes (as with dal or split peas) dissolve into a paste. Make sure enough water is kept in the pot, and stir often to keep from sticking and burning. During this time seasonings and vegetables can be added to the mix, depending on what taste and nutritional outcome is desired. It is best for health to use a minimum amount of salt, so experiment with various seasonings to achieve the flavour that is desired. Onion, garlic, ginger, cumin, various curries, green, red and chilli peppers, and a number of other seasonings and vegetables can be used in various combinations with good effect. One very tasty dish is to cook split green peas with onion, potatoes, carrots, celery, dill seed, garlic, soy sauce, with enough salt to bring out the flavours. The soy sauce is high in sodium, so less salt is needed when using this flavouring. This makes a tasty split pea soup, and can be blended or served as is. With whole meal breads and crackers it makes a very nourishing and satisfying meal.
The larger beans require a little more attention to cook properly. Some people will soak over night, but we find that bringing the beans to a boil and then removing from the heat and soaking for twenty to thirty minutes works as well. After the soaking, pour the water off, add fresh water and simmer until beans are tender. Different seasonings and vegetables can be added to taste during this time. Pinto and red beans are good with garlic, cumin, onion, cilantro (fresh coriander) and green and chilli peppers. When they are cooked, they can be blended to make a delicious bean filling for Mexican foods like burritos or tacos. They also can be used as a base for great bean dips to use with corn crisps. Add plenty of fresh lettuce, tomato, cucumber and various sauces, and you have a Mexican type feast. Rice and beans are also good stuffed into whole meal pita bread (available at Tesco), with vegetables and sauces. To have genuine Indian cuisine, dal and rice is the foundation to build from. Peanuts (groundnuts) can be roasted or boiled, and eaten in a variety of ways, such as peanut butter on bread with slices of fresh fruit, fruit sauces, etc.
To add nutrition, flavour and variety to your diet, start experimenting with legumes. They are an inexpensive source of high quality protein, packed with vitamins and minerals our bodies need to be at their best. The variety and methods of use seem almost endless, and these are high quality health foods that will help keep the immune system at its peak.
Tofu is bean curd made from soy beans. It is a very good source of protein, but is highly refined so has no natural fibre lift in it. One of the advantages of tofu is that it has no cholesterol and is low fat, and can fill the place of foods like eggs and various dairy products that are high in these unhealthful elements. The key to using tofu is how you season it. By itself it is bland and tasteless, but with a few seasonings can be delicious. It is good used in sauces, dishes like lasagne, and can be scrambled like eggs.
To make scrambled tofu, use fresh tofu and crumble it with herbs like garlic and parsley. Add some turmeric to produce the yellow colour and salt to taste. Fry with chopped onion and green pepper in a little olive oil.
Freezing tofu changes the texture. Freeze and thaw, then squeeze out the excess water. The tofu can be cut into cubes and marinated in a mixture of herbs with soy sauce, seasoned to just the taste you desire, then added to stir fried vegetables or broiled. The frozen tofu has more texture than the fresh, and is good in a variety of dishes.