Legumes are back in town
Although legumes have never been away, they are being welcomed as saviors. Rich in proteins and minerals, legumes are a valid substitute for meat. And that is probably why legumes are being put on a float nowadays: meat is no longer a privileged ingredient and can therefor be replaced. Even in countries where legumes have always been on the menu. Adorned with labels as ‘bio’ and ‘organic’ prices soar, changing mister Chickpea in sir Chickpea and missus in milady Broadbean.
Sicilian meat substitute
Italy, as other counties around the Mediterranean sea, produces and prepares legumes ever since there are records of cooking and eating. Sicily in particular has a rich legume tradition: chickpeas, lentils, broad beans, grass peas and beans all have their origin in the ‘poor men’s kitchen’.where meat was absent or at least scarce. The preparation therefor is usual simple and humble, leaving the taste of the legumes on the foreground. Even a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt can elevate them to heavenly proportions.
Eat yourself healthy
Chickpeas, for example are quite a character: apart from the high protein content, they are also rich in minerals – iron, potassium, magnesium and folate – and vitamins -B1, B3, B5 and B6. Did I mention they are rich in fibre, too? What does all that mean for the body? Well, in a nutshell that it is good for your bones, blood pressure and bowel movement, they further more lowers the risk of diabetes, cancer, cholesterol and inflammation.
Let taste decide
It is not because legumes are healthy they can not be tasty. Inventive chefs and pedant nutritionists propose new preparations, some of them interesting, few of them champions. There is no good reason to sweep the millenary tradition under the carpet. Simplicity goes very well with a product that has everything but pretention.
Did you know?
The name of the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero translates as chickpea. Until 1282 Charles I of Anjou ruled over southern Italy. After having suppressed the population and moved his the capital from Palermo to Naples, a spark was enough to set of the fuse. A woman was thoroughly searched – molested – by a French soldier, the husband got mad and killed him. Soon everybody was after the soldiers, who in a attempt to save their skin, dressed as locals, blending in the crowd. They might have looked alike, but they sure talked different, so a ploy was enacted: armed with a fistful of chickpeas people were halted and asked what they were called. The French betrayed themselves by saying ‘siseri’, instead of ‘tchitcheri’ as the locals did. Could this be the reason why, until nowadays, chickpeas are not popular in France?
A characteristic of legumes is that they often come dried. Stored in a dry and dark place they last for a long time, making them available all year round. Some need to be soaked of night – chickpeas – while others need a long time to cook through – lentils. Since legumes now come in cans, a lot of time can be saved. The downside? They often contain too much salt. Well, no roses without thorns, right?
“Esau happily exchanged his birthright to his brother Jacob for guess what…yes a steaming bowl of lentil soup.”
Probably one of the most underrated ingredients, lentils are not only healthy, they are a truly interesting product to cook with. Adding some basic vegetables such as onion, garlic and carrots while boiling can be enough to exalt the typical taste of the small legumes. Growing some of the finest types of lentils, Sicily has a long tradition in preparing and produced exquisite yet easy recipes.
Pasta with lentils
Healthy, tasty and surprising, a champion of the south, best winter evening company possible. Have it once, and you’ll have it again. If there are any leftover, reheat them the following day – or the other one still – and apart for having your lunch ready, you are in for a new culinary sensation.
320 grams of pasta, preferably short pasta such as pennette or dilation
200 grams of lentils, preferably the dry once; if you are going to use a tin, use around the double.
100 grams of tomato paste or 150 of tomato sauce
1 litre of vegetal broth
2 celery stalks
1 big onion
1 clove of garlic
Rosemary and thyme
Sauté the diced carrot, celery and onion in a pot, then add the garlic, rosemary and thyme. Stir, add lentils and cover with broth. Let it simmer away for 40 to 50 minutes. Popping one in your mouth is the best way to find out if they are ready: hard and crunchy, no; soft and smooth, yes. Add the tomato paste and leave it on a very low fire (or well covered off the stove) for 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender to cream the lot down but do not overdo it: leave some of the lentils intact. Add the drained pasta to the lentils or vice versa. Add your cup of cooking water and stir. Serve with cheese.
An easy variation is adding more broth and turning it into a soup. For the cultured or Catholics among you, Esau happily exchanged his birthright to his brother Jacob for guess what…yes a steaming bowl of lentil soup. An ingredient that blends in very well is chili pepper. Instead of trying out what suits you best between dried, fresh, ground, entire, tai or else, you could provide your guests with chili sauce.