By Naomi Crisanteon 14th Mar 2014 11:53
Imagine a food that is low in fat, high in protein, low GI, fibre rich, inexpensive, convenient, doesn’t require refrigeration, is suitable for vegetarians, ready-to-eat direct from the can and is versatile enough to be used as a soup, salad or side dish. Is there really a food that ticks ALL those boxes? Yes, the humble bean or lentil that is sitting in your cupboard is the star ingredient I am talking about.
Whether it is the everyday can of baked beans or something more exotic like creamy cannellinis or bright coloured borlotti beans, these foods are the dried seeds of legume plants and are known as pulses. Including them in your menu planning is a good idea for many reasons.
From a nutritional point of view, pulses are 20-25% protein which makes them a great meat alternative and they are high in fibre and low fat. They also have a low glycemic index (low GI) which means they are digested slowly and energy is released over a longer period of time which is more sustaining. That’s why having baked beans for brekkie is a great start to the day!
Nothing is more convenient than opening up a ready to eat can of beans. Baked beans can be used straight from the tin. Others may require a quick rinse, depending on how you want to use them as the cloudy liquid is sometimes a little salty, however, when making a soup or pureeing beans, the liquid can give extra flavour and a thickening quality – it’s totally up to you.
For me, though, the most appealing thing about pulses is their versatility:
- Toasted wholegrain English muffins topped with baked beans and a slice of cheddar then grilled until melted make a quick and nutritious breakfast.
- Four bean mix is a colourful addition to a salad or a soup and makes a quick work time lunch when mixed with a can of tuna.
- Cannellini beans are soft, creamy beans that I love to add to sautéed onions, together with their liquid, simmer until tender and blend to a creamy puree that serves as a great alternative to mash. Delicious with osso bucco or a chicken cacciatore.
- Borlotti beans add a burst of brightness to my favourite minestrone or Italian pork sausage hot pot.
- Canned lentils are very convenient to add to a quick curry.
- Roast pumpkin, spinach, chick peas and feta with a sweet chilli dressing makes a salad that everyone loves.
- Red kidney beans are made for Mexican – tacos, burritos, chili con carne, quesadillas, fajitas or even a simple salad combo of sweet corn, red kidney beans, chopped tomato and coriander, are all enhanced with the addition of those deep red, meaty beans.
So just by adding a little clever inspiration when cooking, it will amount to much more than just a can of beans!