It’s the third week of Lent, and if you observe the custom of fasting from land-animal meat on Fridays (or on all the days of Lent) but you normally eat lots of meat, by now you’re probably getting tired of fish sticks and macaroni-and-cheese! It’s time for something different–and less expensive, too.
Here are 5 legume-based meals my family really likes. Our kids are 11-year-old Nicholas and 21-month-old Lydia. Most of these meals also have been eaten happily by Nick’s elementary-aged friends at some point. If someone you’re feeding doesn’t like spicy food, though, you’ll want to be cautious with the pepper and ginger–maybe try half the amount the recipe specifies, or just leave it out, depending on your sensitivity level.
My family could eat all these meals in a week. If you’re unaccustomed to eating legumes, don’t start out with too many as they may upset your digestion–but one meal a week should be fine. Why not legumes on Friday instead of fish on Friday? (Is it just because legume doesn’t start with F?)
All of these meals are gluten-free and vegan, unless you choose some of the optional embellishments or side dishes.
Nicholas made this almost all on his own last week! Gallo Pinto, the national dish of Nicaragua, is seasoned differently from your typical Mexican beans & rice. We use this recipe from Seasonal & Savory, featuring grated carrots cooked with the rice to give it an appealing color and extra vitamins and fiber. We make it easy with canned beans (rinse off the liquid in which they’re canned to reduce gassiness) and bottled lime juice. We didn’t have any cilantro this time, and we used white onion instead of green, but it was still scrumptious! Try some fruit on the side–we had clementines.
This recipe makes a large batch, about 8 servings. Like most bean dishes, it’s great reheated in the microwave, so I enjoy taking it as my lunch for work. Then I don’t get the fried egg on top like we do at home, but Gallo Pinto is still delicious and filling as a vegan meal.
For the “hot chile paste, to taste” we use 2 Tbsp. of sambal oelek–which is Asian rather than Central American, but it works! In this big pot of food, 2 Tbsp. adds just a mild zing; all of us except Lydia stir a little extra into our portions.
Green Ribbon Lentils
This is another very easy, nutritious, frugal recipe made in one pot. It has a full, rich Italian flavor that’s kind of halfway between spaghetti and minestrone. In winter, we make it with canned or frozen tomatoes and frozen kale–the kale doesn’t even have to be thawed in advance; just throw it in the pot!
Now that Lydia is eating with us, we don’t cut long kale ribbons as shown in the recipe, because they’re too awkward and could choke her, but Green Ribbon Lentils taste just fine made with finely shredded kale. If anyone in your family has texture issues with cooked leaves, puree the kale before you add it.
We like to accompany our Green Ribbon Lentils with whole-wheat toast spread with butter and nutritional yeast flakes.
Black Bean Soup in the slow cooker
We sometimes make the Mexican-flavored recipe from Stuffed Veggies and sometimes make the gingery version I developed last winter. Both are good! Using the slow cooker allows us to use dry beans, which are far less expensive than canned beans, without the annoyance of cooking them on the stove for hours.
Cornbread is ideal with this soup (either flavor). If you’re having a vegetarian but not vegan meal, try topping soup with a blob of plain yogurt or sour cream, or with some grated cheese.
Our most recent Black Bean Soup was a double batch made by my partner Daniel on my first day back to work after hernia repair surgery. I came home soooo tired and was pleased to have a bowl of warm, soft, spicy goodness placed in front of me! It was a nicely undemanding meal–and the fiber and iron were great for my body, recovering from digestive rearrangement and blood loss.
The double batch gave us a meal for 5 people (my brother was visiting to help out after my surgery–thanks again, Ben!!), 2 quarts for the freezer, and 6 servings of leftovers in the fridge. Three weeks later, I baked zucchini bread (using zucchini from last summer’s farm share that I’d grated and frozen and now thawed), and while it was in the oven I coaxed a cylinder of frozen soup out of its plastic quart bucket into a pot and thawed it by heating it and scraping off the sides, bit by bit (it’s fun!), until it was soup again. This process broke up some of the beans, producing a smoother soup, so we were glad that Lydia now eats with a spoon instead of picking up individual beans.
Of course, if you prefer a smooth soup to one with a lot of intact beans, you can use an immersion blender (or scoop some of it into a regular blender and then pour it back) to achieve your ideal consistency.
Sloppy Joes in the slow cooker
I remember eating Sloppy Joes in my elementary school cafeteria and loving the flavor but not the gritty consistency of the ground meat. Lentil Sloppy Joes are much more my style! We use this recipe from Veggie Venture. The smoked paprika is really crucial to the special flavor and aroma. We also appreciate that this recipe gives cooking times for both low and high settings on the slow cooker so that we can choose which cooking time will better fit our schedule.
Serve a scoop of Sloppy Joe filling on a bun, with pickles, lettuce, or whatever toppings you like! Alternatively, if you’re gluten-free or don’t have buns, try it in a baked potato. Have some fruit on the side–we went with canned fruit cocktail to enhance that “good day in the school cafeteria” feeling. 🙂
This is our variation on a traditional Indian recipe for red lentils, which are smaller and quicker-cooking than the green lentils used in Sloppy Joes and Green Ribbon Lentils. Our recipe also includes grated carrots to increase vitamins and fiber while adding a delicious sweetness. Although this is the most complicated of these five meals because you cook in three pots at once (lentils with spices, onions and carrots, rice) it doesn’t require any super chef skills.
Top with cilantro or thinly sliced cucumber, if you like. Add a scoop of plain yogurt if you are not vegan.
We nearly always double this recipe to make enough for a whole second meal for our family of 4. It’s great when we can make another Indian food on another night and serve it side-by-side with Masoor Dal for a more elaborate meal. It also reheats well for lunches.