There's a lot of chatter about plant protein. Veganism is quite the thing judging by how many high street outlets are offering a vegan menu and pulses are a key player in the plant-based protein world. But is incorporating pulse-based meals really good for you and how do you do it successfully?
Pulses are an excellent meat substitute, they contain protein, are lower in saturated fat and rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. As an accompaniment to some animal protein in your diet, pulses can be a positive regular addition to improve gut health and to broaden the range of micro-nutrients you're eating. If plants are your sole source of protein it's important to remember that pulses are not 'complete' proteins. This means one which contains all the necessary amino acids. Why does this matter, well because amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They are the molecules that all living things need to make protein, and to help your body function properly you need 20 of them. Your body makes 11 of the necessary amino acids, the rest need to come from the food you eat. These are called 'essential amino acids'. Animal proteins contain them all, but in the plant world, only certain grains like quinoa are 'complete'.
By clever combining you can create a meal which does contain all the essential amino acids. Here's a little table to help you:
Incorporating pulses in your every day diet is actually a lot easier than you might think. Any recipe which contains meat, such as chilli con carne, curries, casseroles or soups can be made using pulses. The plus factor is that if you are buying cans or jars of pulses they take very little cooking, a lot less than their meat equivalent. They are also a lot cheaper which is good for our budget too. Useful cans to have in the cupboard are chickpeas, mixed beans and butterbeans. Packets of dried pulses like lentils only take about 20mins boiled with some seasoning, and I like to add half an onion and some bay leaves to the water too. If you are really pushed for time, pouches of ready-cooked lentils are very easy to stir into dishes or added to salads - see my warm salad formula .
If you're a hardened meat-eater then why not add pulses for half the meat? A good compromise which goes down well with my carnivorous husband! I regularly make a half and half lentil and mince lasagne or chilli. In fact, according to the journal Neurology there is evidence that a flexitarian, Mediterranean-style diet, based on produce, legumes, grains, and healthy oils, with small amounts of fish and meat, is connected with better brain health in older adults.
if you fancy some cooking with pulses, here's one for you:
Thai chickpea curry
Served 2 (with another portion for lunch!)
WHAT YOU NEED:
1 can chickpeas
I large leek
Half a medium butternut squash
4 teaspoons red Thai curry paste
1 can coconut milk
Juice of half a lemon or a whole lime
2 tbsp tomato purée
Tsp smoked paprika
Salt & pepper
Tbsp olive oil
WHAT YOU DO:
Chop the butternut squash into dice-sized pieces, scatter on a baking tray and drizzle with half the olive oil. Roast at the top of a medium hot oven. While that’s happening, fry the chopped leek in the olive oil and curry paste. When it's starting to soften, add the drained and rinsed chickpeas and the coconut milk. Simmer gently to thicken. After about 30 minutes your butternut squash should be tender and just browning at the edges. Add to the curry mix. Simmer for a further 5 minutes. Add lemon juice, paprika, tomato purée and seasoning, to taste. Serve with brown rice, sprinkled with the chilli flakes and pumpkin seeds.