Much has been written about the classic combination of legumes and grains. There’s a persistent myth involved, though: the idea that you have to combine the two to get a so-called “complete protein,” or protein that contains all the essential amino acids found in animal protein. In fact, some legumes, grains and other plant-based foods can be complete sources of protein on their own. Moreover, researchers have learned that you don’t have to eat complementary foods in the same meal to get the benefit.
There’s another reason to eat beans and grains together: They taste wonderful in concert. Cuisines the world over celebrate the pairing, from the beans-and-corn dishes of Mexico to the pasta-with-chickpeas of Italy and the soybeans-with-rice of Asia.
Beans and grains can take a good amount of time to cook, although there are solutions for each: pressure cookers, slow cookers (for that set-it-and-forget-it approach), plus canned and frozen products.
When it comes to legumes, the quickest ones to cook from dried are in the lentil family, and my favorite — especially as the weather gets cooler — are split red lentils, which lighten to a golden hue and become super-creamy as you cook them. There are the wonderful dals of India, of course, but my previous go-to recipe for such was Mollie Katzen’s combination of these lentils with soft onions.
Now I’ve found another take that is destined to become a staple. In her lovely new book, “Small Victories,” Julia Turshen writes of cooking red lentils with curry spices and coconut milk, a recipe born out of college-age dinners in which she would try to make the most out of a friend’s sparse pantry. It’s a revelation: You “bloom” the spices in oil, right along with garlic, ginger and shallots, and then let the lentils slowly absorb the coconut milk and a little water, until they become almost like a thick soup.
On their own, the lentils are deeply flavored and warming. Served over a little basmati (or brown basmati) rice, for that classic combination, they’re a meal.
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4 to 6 servings (makes 4 cups)
This one-pot, pantry-friendly meal, reminiscent of Indian dal, is warming and rich thanks to the combination of curry spices and coconut milk. Feel free to substitute your favorite already-mixed curry powder for the combination of cumin, turmeric and coriander. (The basic dish is vegan; you can keep it that way by skipping the yogurt or using coconut or other vegan yogurt.)
Adapted from “Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home-Cooking Triumphs,” by Julia Turshen (Chronicle, 2016).
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon peeled, finely chopped fresh ginger root
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 shallot lobe, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 cup dried split red lentils
One 131/2-ounce can full-fat coconut milk, shaken (may substitute low-fat)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 3/4 cups water (see directions)
Cooked brown or white basmati rice, for serving
Plain dairy or vegan yogurt, for garnish (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the ginger, garlic, shallot, cumin, turmeric and coriander; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the spices are quite fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the lentils, coconut milk and salt, then fill the empty coconut-milk can with water and add that to the saucepan. (It will look like a lot of liquid, but the lentils will absorb much of it as they cook and turn from orange-red to golden in color.) Stir everything together and increase the heat to high; once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low or until the liquid is gently bubbling. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are completely soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Taste, and add salt as needed.
Serve the lentils hot, over rice. Top each serving with a spoonful of yogurt, if using, and a sprinkle of cilantro.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 6, using low-fat coconut milk): 230 calories, 9 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 110 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar
Recipe tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to email@example.com
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