Are 'superfoods' super? Eat your way to great health says Chrissy Freer »
Simple, doable, delicious recipes for everyday healthy eating in SuperLegumes
By Robyn Lewis
Put the word ‘super’ in front of almost any food and you’re guaranteed to get attention in our increasingly health-conscious era. From Jamie Oliver to the Australian Women’s Weekly, everyone seems to be touting super-something-edible, from kale and quinoa to seaweed and spelt.
But what are superfoods? Ask author David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe (whose website has a big following in the US) and he’ll tell you that superfoods are “vibrant, nutritionally dense foods that have recently become widely available and which offer tremendous dietary and healing potential”, adding that super foods will take you on “a path of visionary nutrition… (and) will lift body and soul to a higher evolutionary vibration”. “Superfoods are the food and medicine of the future” says another of his titles.
Whilst I strongly believe (based on considerable medical evidence) that what you eat and drink are very important as part of a healthy lifestyle, touting a food as ‘super’ because it’s become more available (and marketed and commercialised) recently in developed countries like the USA and Australia, does not make it inherently superior to many of the foods we’ve been eating for centuries.
If spinach, tomatoes or cherries were discovered today, they’d be ‘super’, too, being packed with antioxidants, anthocyanins (think purple colours) and vitamin C!
Take legumes – a.k.a. pulses, from the botanic family Leguminosae (also called Fabaceae), which contains beans, peas and other staples of both East and West, including broad and white beans, borlotti and soybeans, chickpeas, lentils and even peanuts (which technically are beans, not nuts). It’s a massive plant family, spread globally, and its members range from ground-creepers to trees (the latter includes Acacias like wattleseed, plus tamarind, and even carob the chocolate substitute).
Legumes have been gathered, grown, eaten and used by humans for many, many millennia (our distant primate ancestors probably ate them too), and it’s fair to say that modern civilisation is as reliant on them as the grass family, whose members include wheat, rye and rice. Legumes are also very important in agriculture, due to their roots’ ability to fix nitrogen into the soil and thus increase its fertility. Some are also used in medicines.
But back to the book. So, are legumes super? Yes they are, for the very important reason that as well as vitamins and minerals, they are low GI and also contain a lot of protein by weight, far more than the starchy plants like potatoes, rice and taro. We all need protein to survive. In fact recent scientific studies are showing that the need for protein increases as you get older – if you want to live well and into your 90s, that is. Kids need lots of protein too, for growth and energy. And if you’re vegetarian, getting enough protein is a major daily challenge.
Plus, legumes are relatively inexpensive. The cost of protein in a piece of steak or seafood is far, far greater than that of chick peas or dried beans.Plus, many regard legumes as being more environmentally friendly, requiring less water and resources to produce. So, why don’t we eat them more often?
Part of this is obviously image. They’re regarded as cheap, and thus (to some) inferior. Plus, despite their thousands of years of use, many don’t know how to cook them, especially in styles suited to our food-image-conscious, fast food era.
The answer lies in making them tasty, easy, quick and desirable (they’re already accessible). Take hummus. 30 or 40 years ago if someone had suggested that every supermarket and deli would sell “ground chick peas and crushed sesame seeds” they’d have been laughed at. But along came multiculturalism and Middle Eastern food influences, and in came hummus, now the go-to snack or dip for many, of whatever culinary heritage, kids included.
It’s time legumes threw off their cheap, boring (sadly) and (ahem) flatulence-inducing reputation (the latter is restricted to a few members of the bean family, and can be reduced by soaking or skinning the beans). If it takes calling them Super, I’m all for it, for they genuinely are.
SuperLegumes is a great step in the right direction.
But before we dive into the recipes, step back nearly twenty years, when a CSIRO researcher at the Co-operative Research Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (how’s that for a mouthful?! CLIMA, for short), Dr Nancy Longnecker, wrote a book called Passion for Pulses, containing“over 150 sweet and savoury recipes from around the world – old favourites like Hommos; Dhal; and Chilli Con Carne, along with the more exotic Brazilian Croustade; Lentil Tom Kha Soup; and a Crab and Chickpea Curry. And for pure indulgence, who can go past Wattleseed Shortbread; Lentil Brownies; and Gluten-free Chocolate Cake?”
Many of the arguments she put forward are the same as those today. The recipes are generally good, and very multicultural. So why didn’t it take off?
Perhaps it was ahead of its time – the gluten-free movement hadn’t become mainstream, ‘international sections’ of supermarkets didn’t exist, nor did prime time TV cooking shows – and the book’s layout harked back to the 1980s, with crockery to match. (That said, it was reprinted in 2004, so it must have sold reasonably well.)
Is SuperLegumes better, and can it help change the way we think about and consume legumes? Legumes are healthy and can be made into tasty, filling, nutritious and appealing dishes. Tick. Logic tells us we should eat more. Tick.So the issue is clearly one of emotion, and that’s where marketing comes in. There’s no Legume Board throwing money at advertising beans and peas like there is for pork, lamb, beef or barley. So who can make legumes desirable?
This is where author and nutritionist Chrissy Freer comes in, backed in part by the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council for assistance with research (if not marketing), and a host of her friends in the Byron Bay hinterland for recipe testing, photography, food styling and lovely location shots.
The layout of Super Legumes is another great start. Gone are crowded recipes and photos, in come evocative, full-size photos of most recipes that would look at home in any of our Top 10 recipe books of the year.
And the recipes are modern and appealing. Forget the staid old, Freer includes fresh legumes as well as dried: green peas, soy bean pods, crunchy green beans and baby broad beans.
Short on time? Canned beans can be used for speed and simplicity, too (just try to ensure you select low salt ones).
There’s a very useful cooking time guide on pp 12-13 if you are using the more economical dried legumes though, telling you which ones need overnight soaking and how long to cook for. If you have a pressure cooker, cooking time can be one quarter of the time of stovetop cooking, or around a half if you don’t have time to presoak.
All 90+ recipes are marked as to whether they are vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free or vegan and are arranged by legume variety (and with a good index to find recipes by ingredient) as follows:
soy and adzuki beans
borlotti, broad and green beans
into, black and kidney beans
peanuts and lupins
carob, mesquite and wattleseed
Meat and fish eaters are not ignored – there are recipes for Grilled Steak with Wattleseed Rub; Masala Beef and Red Kidney Bean Curry; Piri-piri Chicken with Smashed Chickpeas; Chickpea Stew with Rosemary and Lemon Grilled Lamb; Tuna, White Bean, Fennel, Tomato and Caper Salad; Sesame-crusted Tuna with Adzuki Beans, Soba Noodles and Spinach; Steamed Lemongrass Fish with Stir-fried Peas; Honey-glazed Pork with Snow Pea, Cabbage and Sprout Slaw, and more.
Plenty of these dishes could be matched with wine and/or be served to guests, also. Some of the standouts for me include
curries, including Pea and Paneer Curry; Massaman Chickpea Curry; Fragrant Bean and Sweet Potato Curry; plus Spinach and Lentil Dhal
soups including Bean and Cauliflower Soup with Basil Oil; Pumpkin, Bean and Coconut Soup; Roasted Tomato and Lentil Soup; Ribollita with Parmesan Chilli Croutons; and Pasta e Fagioli, another traditional Italian soup
sides including Butter Bean, Ricotta and Pea Mash; French style Petit Pois; Green Beans with Walnuts and Lemon; and Pea and Coconut Sundal (and Indian side to curries)
quick meals such as Cauliflower Fried ‘Rice’ with Peas and Prawns; Pasta with Beans, Prosciutto, Tomato and Parmesan; and Ginger Beef and Bean Stir Fry
breakfast dishes like Peanut, Maple and Seed Granola; Scrambled Eggs with Mexican Beans and Spicy Tomato Salsa; and Quesadillas with Black Beans, Spinach and Mushrooms
light lunches like Bruschetta with Broad Beans, Marinated Capsicums and Goat’s Cheese
comfort food like Quinoa Risotto with Beans, Lemon and Parmesan; and Lentil Bolognaise.
There are also salads for warmer weather, plus Pork Satays with Pickled Carrot Salad; Brown Rice Salad with Peanuts; and the substantial Spicy Chicken Salad with Peanuts, Cabbage and Mint which you could have any time.
Did you know that beans can also be used in some baked goods like biscuits and cakes, including Macadamia and Fig Cookies; Mandarin, Pistachio and Chickpea Cake; Vanilla Almond Cupcakes and Double Choc Bean Brownies? Your kids will enjoy and could help make many of these.
There are also recipes for flatbreads including Currant, Coconut and Coriander Flatbread and Yoghurt Flatbread, the healthy Oat Pancakes with Berries (which contain blended cannellini beans); Fruit, Wattleseed and Walnut Buns; and a cauliflower-base pizza which Freer topped with white beans, cherry tomatoes and pumpkin, but you could use any combo you or the kids like.
Many legumes make good snacks, like Honey Spice Roasted Chickpeas and Broad Bean Dip with Spiced Pitta Crisps. One thing I didn’t know before is that you can make pasta dough with a mixture of spelt and lupin flours, which is higher in protein, and with a lower GI and easier on digestion for those avoiding wheat.
Overall, I found this book excellent and full of unexpected surprises, like Coffee and Fig Self-saucing Puddings topped with raspberries, not what you immediately think of when reading about beans.
Banish thoughts of stodgy vego lentil burgers and instead turn to SuperLegumes. Freer can’t market these nutritious foods single-handed, but this book is a great start to introduce them to a new generation or to change your preconceptions if you're a bit older.
I’ll be aiming to follow the advice of Valli Little, Food Editor of delicious magazine, who writes “These simple, delicious and doable recipes are what we should all be eating every day”. Maybe not daily in my house, but I’m going to make at least one dish from this book per week from now on, and think a lot more about incorporating legumes into my old mainstays, given the inspiration Freer provides.
At A$29.99 SuperLegumes is very affordable, and even more so if you’ve discovered the book section in Target where I saw copies for sale around $18. Your health, taste buds and wallet will thank you.
SuperLegumes – eat your way to great health by Chrissy Freer is published by Murdoch Books (2015, Crow’s Nest, NSW; sc, 224pp) and retails in Australia for $29.99.
It can be purchased online via Booko.com.au here »
Chrissy Freer can be found on Facebook here https://www.facebook.com/chrissyfreerfood
Read the media release for more information about Chrissy Freer and her books, and enjoy three free recipes below.
- North Coast NSW (NSW)
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