Friday, March 11, 2016

Vegetarian protein sources

Growing up in a vegetarian household I never felt I had limited options in terms of variety or nutrition. One can find many sources of vegetarian protein.  Only when I moved to the US, people asked me about the protein content in my diet. Meat is not the only source of protein, and a lot of people believe that you can't get enough protein from plants - a myth. I thought it might be a good idea to explore vegetarian protein sources, for myself and to document on the blog.

In this post I will be doing a guide to beans, lentils and split peas.

I'm not an expert in nutrition and this is my personal research, that I am sharing on the blog. Am sure you guys know - it is not recommended to make dietary changes without consulting your doctor. Now having said that,  this is my opinion based on my personal research and this is not a research paper or recommendation for your dietary choices. If I have missed out any category - do leave me a comment or email, I would love to add it.


I have categorized the major sources of vegetarian protein into 5 categories.

1 Legumes : beans, split peas and lentils 
2 Grains and seeds
3 Nuts and nut butter
4 Diary
5 Veggies and fruits

The first category is really my favorite, the options will dazzle you. The colors, the textures the variety... at first I was overwhelmed. Then I slowed down the pace and began to almost became a journey. I was curious about the history, the place of origin, migration pattern, hybrid varieties, nutrition value, how to use them...oh the list is endless. The more I explored the deeper I got into it.

I'll just stick with the food aspect, for the purpose of this post.   To be able to cover all 5 sources in one post is unfair to the huge variety each encompasses. I'll do legumes for now and will post the others as a sequel to this post. Looks like I will have to split the legumes post in two as well...there is so much to talk about.

I'm planning to make it a picture story so it's more interesting. So, now is the time to get your coffee. Will try to keep it short and informative.

Legumes are basically seeds that grown in pods. Beans are oval and kidney shaped, peas are round and lentils are flat disc. They might be a few exceptions. They are low in fat and high in protein and fiber. While lentils and split peas cook faster, beans need to be soaked for cooking. 

Bean: a seed that is eaten as a vegetable and that comes from any one of many different kinds of climbing plants. Low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, iron and folic acid. They are not only a frugal alternative to meat but extremely delicious and a longer shelf life. 

Preparing beans before cooking: Beans must be soaked for at least 6-8 hours before cooking. It is recommended to drain the water that it has been soaked in, though some nutrition could be lost but you will also be getting rid of a huge percent of oligosaccharides - that is the culprit for flatulence, causing uncomfortable issues ahem! Click here for more information. 

Split peas: a pea dried and plit in half for cooking 

Lentil: a type of flat, round seed that is related to the pea and is eaten as a vegetable.
Like beans, lentils and split peas are low in fat and high in protein and fiber. However they do not need to be soaked and much easier to cook. 

Helpful tips :

Add salt after is is cooked or three quarters of the way through cooking. Adding salt can lengthen cooking time. 

Don't add acidic elements like tomatoes, wine, lime juice, vinegar - they prevent it from softening. 

If you have a pressure cooker, you will be cutting the cooking time in half - no kidding!. 

Since there are so many varieties of beans, split peas and lentils - it's not possible for me to post all of them, these are a few I use.

Every bean, lentil and split pea have varied cooking time - check the label before to cook.


Adzuki beans: Small, reddish beans with a white ridge along the sides, has a strong, nutty and sweet flavor. Used in Japanese cuisine.

Moth beans: pronounced as 'moat' has an earthy and nutty flavor. Used in Indian cuisine. You get lot of variations in sizes and colors.

Red kidney bean: they have a meaty texture and often retain their shape after cooking. Used in cuisine world wide.

Black gram : also called, black lentil or vigna mungo. It's a grayish - black lentil with a small while line on the side. It is white on the inside. It originated in India, and has been cultivated since ancient times. It is mildly sweet and very easy to cook, a slightly slimy consistency after it has been cooked.

Turtle beans: It is commonly know as black beans, has quite a strong and earthy flavoring. USed in LAtin American and Caribbean Cuisine.

Black Beluga: are small back round lentil and is yellow inside. They are named after the caviar they resemble. Earthy flavor, soft texture and don't easily fall apart, they retain their shape after cooking. Popular in south Asia.


French green lentil : also called lentil du Puy, is more strongly flavored than any other lentil. They are great for salads as they retain their shape better. Their nutty flavor is attributed to the volcanic soil they are grown in, giving it a mineral-rich taste.

Green gram : also called the moong bean is native to the Indian sub continent. It is said to be one of the best vegetarian super foods, that is also easy to digest. Try sprouting it and using it in salads.

Split green peas: when fresh peas are not available, you can uses these starchier, hardier and more favorable dried peas.

Large green lentil: can be used as a substitute for Puy lentil in any recipe. They hold their shape well and are great for salads.

Some recipes for using this gorgeous beans, lentil and split peas.

Lentil quinoa patties 
Coconut curry 
Mixed lentil curry
Indian dessert with lentil 
Savory Pancakes

This looks like a loooong post. I don't have a huge attention span, going with that assumption ...To be continued.....

Food photography workshop  Here is some information if you are interested in Food photography -  a friend (Marc Weisberg) is doing a workshop in LA. I think it's gorgeous location - here are the details.

Celebrity chef Lisa Schoen will be in the house doing the food styling.
*When: April 2nd, 10am-5pm – Topanga Cyn, LA.
*Experience a professionally styled food and wine shoot.
*Hands on food & wine photography with natural and continuous lighting.
*Build your food and wine portfolio.
*Use the latest Sony mirrorless cameras and lenses for the day.
*Taste a selection of curated wines from boutique Califronia wineries.
*Photo contest....grand of the line Sony point and shoot camera.
*Learn simple methods for creating compelling food and wine images for blogging, social media and commercial use.

Image by Marc Beisberg

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  1. I'm LOVING this post Simi. Pictures are visual treat and so informative.

  2. Very nice post Simi.Love reading about the protein sources.Me too a pure vegetarian and yeah never felt like we had limited options.Stunning captures.

  3. I absolutely adore this post. Great photos and a very informative write up.

  4. Oh my.. i have not seen a lentils presented so beautifully and artistically. This is the 8th time I came to the post to feast my eyes..
    P.S Can i borrow the idea of painting black the eco friendly bowls??? please... i so love it

  5. Beautifully presented this meticulous work. Love reading this post and I have checked this post a few time already.

  6. That is so much of information... I love lentils and so good to see so many variations that I have never even looked at!

  7. Love everything about it, the beautiful art you have made with beans kudos to your patience, brings back memories of school. Love your photography as always a feast for eyes


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