Love your legumes

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD,
with Karli Nordman and Kaitlin Berris

Portrait of Vesanto Melina
• Legumes provide protein to vegan and vegetarian diets and are a great addition to many diverse lifestyles. As a rich source of fibre, legumes can help promote healthy cholesterol levels and digestive health and they also help us maintain blood glucose and energy between meals. In addition, they are great sources of iron, zinc, other minerals and B vitamins, including folate.

But what are legumes? These pod-contained plant parts are protein powerhouses and can be found in North America in 20 commonly eaten forms, such as peas, numerous types of beans, lentils, soy foods and peanuts. In addition, countless numbers of products contain legumes. Peanut butter and tofu are examples typically found in households while some less common items include tempeh, veggie “meats,” refried beans, hummus, edamame, soy milk and lentil or bean chips.

Legumes may be purchased dried or canned and are easily prepared in the comfort of your own home. This not only allows you control over what goes into your food, but it also allows you to cut costs and to flavour the dish to your liking. Buying dried legumes may seem daunting at first, but rest assured that pre-soaking and boiling them is as easy as it sounds. The larger beans (including chickpeas) require six hours of soaking followed by about 60 minutes of boiling to reach desired softness. Smaller legumes – lentils, split peas, mung beans – do not require pre-soaking. Once soaked, boiled and cooled, beans can be frozen in airtight bags or containers until needed. Dried legumes, aside from having no salt or additives and little fat content, are the most cost-efficient source of these protein superstars.

Similar to any food, variety is key when preparing dishes with legumes. It may be as simple as replacing meat with a can of beans, adding chickpeas to a favourite dish or learning a new recipe. Here are some ideas to try at home:

• Dahl, made from lentils • Split pea soup

• Hummus, made from chickpeas • Black bean brownies

• Vegetarian bean chili or soup • Toasted chickpeas

• Bean salad (great for picnics; see recipe below)

As the age-old saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life!”

Vesanto Melina is a Registered Dietitian based in Langley., Karli Nordman and Kaitlin Berris are third year Dietetics students at the University of British Columbia, and hope to inspire others with their love of food.

Multi-coloured bean and vegetable salad

Makes 6 cups

From Cooking Vegetarian by J. Forest and V. Melina, Harper Collins, 2011.


2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. dill weed

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/4 cup cider, balsamic or raspberry vinegar

Place ingredients in a jar and shake or put in a bowl and whisk until blended.

Beans and marinade

3 cups cooked or canned beans such as black, pinto, red, white or garbanzo

Rinse and drain beans. Combine beans and marinade into a bowl and mix. Refrigerate for 6 hours so flavours penetrate the beans. Stir occasionally.


1 cup yellow bell pepper, diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1 cup green beans, ½ inch slices

Stir in the vegetables just before serving.

Nutrition (per cup) – Calories: 200. Protein: 10 g. Fat: 6 g. Dietary fibre: 11 g. Calcium: 50 mg. Iron: 2 mg. Potassium: 459 mg. Sodium: 413 mg. Zinc: 1 mg.

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