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Legumes low-down

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LegumesThe legume family is enormous. Apart from the edible peas and beans we all know such as lentils, kidney beans and chick peas, also included are clover, lupins, peanuts, alfalfa and carob! Legumes are a staple food of many countries around the world and they are popular here due to their nutrient density, taste and low cost.

Generalising, as nutrients will vary from variety to variety, legumes have much to offer. They have protein, fibre, a bucketful of minerals and a few vitamins. Sounds great doesn’t it? And of course it is. BUT (and it’s a big but!) they must be processed correctly. Legumes (and other plant foods, but less so) contain chemicals which help their own preservation. Plants can’t run away from predators so they must employ a different strategy. They produce chemicals – especially in their skins – to ensure that they are not eaten into extinction. These chemicals can cause digestive distress, protein metabolism inhibition and they bind minerals (preventing their absorption). Peas and beans should never be eaten raw. All is not lost – as I said previously, many countries rely on them as a major food source. However, these people know all there is to know about legumes and their preparation and therefore obtain all the nutrients available without the drawbacks.

Preparation is simple but takes time. Prior to cooking, soaking or sprouting are methods to neutralise the “anti-nutrients”, thus making them easier on the digestion and their nutrients more easily absorbed. As they are already skinned, red lentils need little preparation other than a few hours soaking. Those with skins should be soaked in water with a little lemon juice or cider vinegar added, for 24 hours before cooking. Better still, leave in plain water until just germinated (change the water a few times) – to increase the nutrients and cut down cooking time. The time for this will depend on the legume you are using and the environmental temperature. Once sprouted, put in a covered container in the fridge where they will keep for a few days. Then use in recipes!

Tinned LentilsCanned beans and lentils have been cooked at high pressure ensuring that they are suitable to eat. Very useful for an impromptu meal!  Remember too, that you can add beans and peas to meat stews to increase the texture and nutrient variety. Leftover cooked legumes can be used in salads.

RECIPE: Try this rather yummy sounding vegetarian lentil loaf recipe (Courtesy of Spark).