Legumes-Vegetarian Powerhouses – Basic Ways to Prepare and Use

Legumes are a rich source of protein and are a staple food in India and in the Middle East. They are classified as lentils, beans, or peas, and all of them are basically seeds from specific plants. Varieties of dal (also called dahl), often mentioned in ayurvedic cooking, are legumes.

A look at versatile legumes from the viewpoint of Ayurveda, the ancient system of holistic healing from India

There are innumerable varieties of legumes grown in different parts of the world, and they come in various shapes, sizes and colors. They have been in cultivation for thousands of years. There are tropical or warm-region legumes and temperate or cool-region legumes. In many parts of the world legumes are considered extremely valuable dietary additions because they constitute relatively inexpensive sources of nutrition- they are generally high in complex carbohydrates, protein and fiber, and relatively low on fat. Not only are legumes highly nutritious, they are very versatile, lending themselves to all kinds of dishes and combining marvelously with grains, vegetables and spices. Best of all, they taste delicious, with a buttery texture and subtly nutty flavor.

Vegetables in Ayurvedic Nutrition

According to ayurveda, it is important to aim for dietary balance by including all six tastes-sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent-in every main meal. Legumes contribute the astringent taste. They help build the seven types of body tissue, especially muscle tissue, which makes them especially important for individuals on a vegetarian diet.

In ayurvedic nutrition, they are often a part of every meal of the day. They are also used to make desserts and snacks. Vegetarian protein from legumes requires a well-stoked digestive fire to digest, and individuals new to legumes will find it very helpful to use spices that help digestion such as asafetida, cumin seeds, fresh ginger, and black pepper. Adding these spices to legume dishes will help to reduce any side effect, such as bloating or gas, that beans are often associated with. It is also advisable to add legumes gradually to your diet if they are new additions to your diet. With regular intake, your body will adapt to them and enable you to digest them better and better. You can slowly increase your intake over time to levels that are comfortable for you.

The easiest to digest of all the beans is yellow split mung dal. Yellow mung beans are green mung beans that have been hulled and split. This dal helps to balance all three ayurvedic doshas or mind/body constitutions-Vata, Pitta and Kapha-and is the quickest cooking of all the dals. It takes only 20 minutes to cook without any soaking time. When cooked, mung dal takes on the consistency of porridge. This dal is praised in ayurvedic texts for its nutritional value and ease of digestion. Be sure to properly rinse the beans with water before you use them and look out for small pebbles or twigs.

There are three basic ways to prepare and use legumes:

legumes and fruits

  1. Legumes are soaked in water overnight and then cooked the next day by being boiled in water. Spices can be added while cooking or a spiced Ghee (clarified butter) mixture can be added after cooking.
  2. Vegetables and grains may be added while cooking to create hearty stews. These can be poured over rice or used for dipping flat breads such as Indian chapati bread or Middle Eastern pita bread.
  3. Legumes can be soaked for several hours and then ground into a paste with a food processor to make dumplings, fritters, and desserts.
  4. Legumes can be ground into flours to make dough for breads and for desserts and puddings.

Some tips for cooking with dahls and lentils:

  1. Store dry beans and dahls in dry, airtight containers at room temperature.
  2. Try and use dahls and lentils within six months – the older they get, the longer they take to soak and cook because of lost moisture
  3. Sort dahls, beans and lentils before use – you may find an occasional small stone or twig you’ll want to remove before cooking
  4. Rinse several times before you cook
  5. Some beans need soaking to aid the cooking process
  6. Do not add salt or acidic ingredients like tomatoes or lemon juice until the beans or dahls are cooked

If you plan to make legumes a regular part of your diet, you can invest in a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker will help speed up cooking times and cook many dahls without pre-soaking. It also helps cook legumes to butter-soft consistency, which ayurveda recommends for easier digestibility. Different pressure cookers have different time mechanisms, so you will have to experiment to figure out ideal cooking times for each variety of beans or lentils you cook.

Vegetarian protein from legumes requires a well-stoked digestive fire to digest, and individuals new to legumes will find it very helpful to use spices that help digestion…

What you have in your mind?