Initially, when a person’s days of pulled pork and beef stew draw to an end, the search for protein is halted by the “tofu roadblock.” When I first gave up red meat five years ago, processed soy products were a convenient and easy solution. No thinking was involved: Can’t eat meat? Just throw in tofu instead!
Soy is a complete protein, which means it contains an adequate proportion of all nine essential amino acids necessary to keep our biological functions movin’ and groovin’. There is, however, much dispute on the nutritional benefits of soy, even in it’s natural form. Soy is one of the eight foods responsible for food allergies and is claimed to be the cause of increased breast cancer rates and thyroid disfunction. I take the different viewpoints into account, but in the end I just follow the golden rules: “Natural is best” and “moderation is key.” I still eat tofu and soy milk from time to time, but when I can, I try to regard processed soy as I would any other processed food product. In my opinion, the health problems associated with soy are associated with overconsumption rather than the food itself. Asians have been safely consuming tofu for centuries, but the amount was considerably less than we do now, especially in light of the soy additives in many of our food products.
When I limited my soy intake and took red meat out of my diet again this past Easter, I was forced to re-enage in the search to find protein powerhouses for my cupboard. I will be highlighting three in this post, two of which I have been familiar with for a number of years, and one that I have just recently brought into my kitchen:
1. Lentils: Approximately 26% of their calories is from protein and have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any plant-based food after soybeans and hemp. Lentils take minutes to prepare and can be enjoyed in numerous ways. My personal favourite is the Indian dish, Dal, served alongside a steaming, freshly made roti!
2. Bulgur Wheat: Half a cup of cooked bulgur boasts 3 grams of protein, 4 grams of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of fat, and just 76 calories. That’s more than twice the fiber and fewer calories than brown rice, one of the most popular healthy side dishes. The Middle Eastern dish, tabouli (or tabbouleh), is a bulgur favourite!
3: Quinoa: Quinoa is considered a complete protein, with a protein content of 12%–18%. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. As an added bonus, quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered a possible crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights. Super cool, right? These babies can be served hot or cold, on salads, and, as I recently discovered, even in muffins and breads!
Here are two delicious recipes I’ve tried recently that utilize these nutritional heavyweights:
Quinoa Raspberry Muffins
*modified from The Running Magazine’s Quinoa Cranberry Muffins
Healthier muffins do not rise as much as more traditional, sugary ones, so do not be alarmed (as I was) when they come out of the oven not much larger than how they went in. They come out quite moist as well, so I would forgo the muffin cups and opt to grease the pan instead. These muffins are great for breakfast, snacks, or to replenish your weary muscles after a long run or workout!
2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
1 3/4 flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 milk (I used soy milk)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup raspberries (I used frozen)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Lightly grease and flour a 12 cup muffin pan.
3. Add quinoa to water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover and simmer for 13 minutes. Let cool.
4. In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and 2 cups of cooked quinoa. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, milk and vanilla. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Mix in the raspberries and divide batter between 12 muffin cups.
6. Bake for 25 minutes. Store in a covered container.
*modified from The Moosewood Cookbook
This tabouli inspired recipe is a perfectly balanced protein dish. I served it over a bed of spinach, but it can be eaten in wraps or on it’s own with a toasted piece of pita, toast, or a warm naan. Minus the feta cheese and the recipe becomes a delicious vegan dish!
1 cup dry lentils, 2 cups water
1 cup bulgur wheat, 1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 medium cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. oregano
2 Tbs. freshly minced mint (or 2 tsp. dried mint)
2 to 3 Tbs. freshly minced dill (or 2 -3 tsp. of dried dill)
Fresh black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup (packed) freshly minced parsely
1 small bell pepper (any colour), diced
1/2 stalk of celery, finely minced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup olives
1 medium-sized tomato, diced
1/2 cup of pecans (original recipe called for walnuts, but I didn’t have any!)
Squeezable wedges of lemon for garnish
* The original recipe also called for a tsp. of salt, which, out of preference, I did not include. 1/3 cup finely minced red onion was also listed, but I had forgotten to buy one! The salad was just as delicious and had less of an aftertaste (and “after breath!).
1. Place the lentils in medium-sized saucepan, cover with 2 cups of water, and bring just to the boiling point. Turn heat way down and cover. Simmer without disturbance for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender, not mushy. Drain well, transfer to large bowl.
2. While the lentils are cooking, place the bulgur in a small bowl. Add boiling water, cover with a plate, and let stand 10 – 15 minutes while getting the other ingredients together.
3. Add everything to the lentils, except the tomato chunks, nuts, and lemon wedges. Mix gently but thoroughly. Cover tightly and refrigerate.
4. Just before serving, top with tomatoes and walnuts. Garnish with lemon wedges.