Make a healthy habit of cooking with power-packed foods
Finger on the pulses
In my kitchen in Wanaka I have a big shelf of glass jars filled with all manner of grains and pulses. It looks so good, with the earthy hues of brown, green, orange, cream and ochre lined up, and lends a wholesome feel to my cooking space.
But there’s a lot more than window dressing at stake here. Pretty much every day, I am delving into one or another of these jars — a handful of quinoa to cook and toss through a roasted vegetable salad for extra protein, a big pour of dried split peas to slowly cook with a ham hock for a soothing soup, or to simmer with Indian spices and root vegetables for a simple curry. Several times a week there will be a pot of lentils on the go, simmered with garlic and onion and finished with parsley, good olive oil and a splash of sherry vinegar as a partner for a confit duck leg, a fillet of fish or some roasted chicken.
Many years ago, when I attended a residential cooking course on nutrition at the Culinary Insititute of America, just out of New York, the mandate was to create meals with 55 per cent of calories coming from complex carbohydrates — whole grains (such as brown rice, barley and oats), pulses (such as dried beans and peas, lentils and chickpeas) and pseudo grains (such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth, which look and cook like grains but are actually seeds), plus starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and corn). These food sources, which are rich in fibre, minerals and vitamins, release their energy slowly, so you feel full and satisfied.
Building meals around these power-packed foods has become an easy habit for me. They have a long shelf-life and, with the exception of quinoa, they are really affordable. I like to cook up big batches so I can have them on hand, either in the fridge or frozen, ready to pop into a meal.
Dried grains, cereals and legumes vary considerably in age as well as size, so the soaking and cooking times can vary from the packet instructions.
Rice, lentils, dried peas, farro and quinoa need rinsing only before cooking, while chickpeas and dried beans must be soaked for 6-12 hours in cold water, then drained and rinsed before cooking in fresh water.
This week’s recipes demonstrate the versatility and deliciousness of some of my favourite pulses.
VEGETABLE AND CASHEW CURRY
Ready in 1 hour Serves 6 1 cup natural yoghurt, runny 2 tsp cumin seeds 1 tsp ground turmeric 1 Tbsp grated ginger 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped 3 Tbsp butter 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped 2 large onions, diced 1 tsp fennel seeds 5 whole cardamom pods 2 tsp tomato paste 500g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 4cm chunks 2 Tbsp cornflour or chickpea flour 4 tomatoes, diced 1 cup peas, fresh or frozen 2 x 400g cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained 1½ cups water 2 tsp each salt and finely ground black pepper 1 cup raw cashews, coarsely chopped ½ cup torn coriander leaves, to garnish Place yoghurt in a bowl with cumin seeds, turmeric, ginger and chilli. Mix to combine and set aside. In a large frying pan, heat butter and fry garlic until just golden. Add onions, fennel seeds and cardamom pods and cook over medium heat until onions are lightly golden. Add tomato paste and pumpkin and stir over heat for 2-3 minutes. Mix cornflour or chickpea flour with ½ cup water then stir into yoghurt mixture. Add this to pumpkin mixture, stirring to incorporate, and then cook gently without stirring until most of the liquid has been absorbed (8-10 minutes). Add tomatoes, peas, chickpeas, water, salt, pepper and cashews. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring now and again until vegetables are tender and mixture is lightly thickened. Garnish with coriander leaves.
Annabel says: I learned this lovely recipe from a chef in Jaipur. Indian chefs tend not to use flour to prevent splitting but I find it safer to use a little cornflour or chickpea flour to hold the yoghurt together.
BAKED PUMPKIN WITH SPICY LENTILS
Ready in 50 mins Serves 4 2 x 800g pumpkins, such as buttercup, deseeded and quartered 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp soft brown sugar 5 tsp ground cumin Salt and ground black pepper, to taste 4 cloves garlic, crushed 2 onions, finely chopped 4 Tbsp tomato paste 2-3 tsp curry powder, to taste A pinch of cayenne pepper (optional) 3 cups cooked le Puy or brown lentils, or 2 x 400g cans lentils, drained and rinsed ¾ cup vegetable stock To garnish Natural yoghurt, runny 2 Tbsp chopped coriander leaves 2 Tbsp almond slivers, toasted Preheat oven to 200C fanbake. Place pumpkin quarters cut-side up on a shallow roasting tray lined with baking paper for easy clean-up. Drizzle with a little of the oil then sprinkle with sugar, 1 tsp of the cumin, salt and pepper and bake until tender and golden (35-40 minutes). While butternut or pumpkin is baking, heat remaining oil in a pot and cook garlic and onion gently until softened but not browned (8 minutes). Add tomato paste, curry powder, cayenne pepper, if using, and remaining cumin and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add lentils and stock, bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until thickened (about 10 minutes). Adjust seasonings to taste. To serve, transfer cooked pumpkin or butternut to 4 plates and divide hot lentil mixture over the top. Drizzle with yoghurt and sprinkle with coriander and almond slivers.
Annabel says: French le Puy lentils are my favourite for dishes like this as they hold their shape and don’t get mushy. They are more expensive than other lentils, so if preferred you can use cooked brown lentils, or if you are in a rush, use canned ones.
BLACK BEAN AND QUINOA LETTUCE CUPS
Ready in 15 mins + cooling Serves 8 1 Tbsp neutral oil 1 clove garlic, crushed 1 tsp ground cumin A pinch of cayenne pepper Zest of ½ lemon, finely grated 1½ cups cooked black beans or a 400g can black beans, drained and rinsed 1½ cups cooked quinoa (½ cup raw) 2 Tbsp lemon juice To serve 10 cherry tomatoes, quartered Flesh of 1 large avocado, diced 1 spring onion, finely chopped 2 Tbsp finely chopped coriander Salt and ground black pepper, to taste 8-12 firm leaves cos or iceberg lettuce Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add garlic, cumin, cayenne and lemon zest and sizzle for about 30 seconds. Add beans and toss over heat for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, mix in pre-cooked quinoa and lemon juice and leave to cool. When ready to serve, add tomatoes, avocado, spring onion and coriander. Season to taste. Toss to combine and serve in a bowl with lettuce cups alongside so people can help themselves.
Annabel says: My favourite way to cook a batch of quinoa is to saute 2 finely diced shallots in 3 Tbsp olive oil until tender but not browned. Rinse 1 cup quinoa in a sieve under cold water, drain well and add to shallots with 1½ cups water and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook on lowest heat until all the water has been absorbed and the quinoa has split open, revealing the germ of the kernel. Allow to stand for 5 minutes then fluff with a fork. Makes about 3 cups. Leftover cooked quinoa will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days and also freezes well.
VEGETABLE AND CASHEW CURRY Essential Volume Two, Sweet Treats for Every Occasion (Annabel Langbein Media, $65) is a beautiful compendium of Annabel’s best-ever sweet recipes and cooking tips. It makes a wonderful gift or treat for yourself, and it’s...
BLACK BEAN AND QUINOA LETTUCE CUPS
BAKED PUMPKIN WITH SPICY LENTILS