Food & Drink

Cowgirl Chef: Cook up dried legumes for better health

Black bean and quinoa mini casseroles are easy enough for everyday and cute enough to serve for a casual dinner.
Black bean and quinoa mini casseroles are easy enough for everyday and cute enough to serve for a casual dinner. Special to the Star-Telegram

The United Nations has declared 2016 “The International Year of the Pulses” — but what are pulses and why should we be eating them?

Black beans are pulses. So are pintos and black-eyed peas. Kidney beans, cannellinis, and chickpeas. Pulses are dried legumes that are high in fiber and protein, and low in fat, which we all know — ding, ding, ding — is heart-healthy and great for lowering cholesterol, too.

They’re not only good for our bodies and our pocketbook (dried beans are cheap), they’re kind to the environment — very little water is required to grow them and they improve soil quality wherever they’re planted.

I’ve always eaten lots of pulses, simply because I love how easy they are to make and then use as a foundation for something else. I always have black beans prepared and stored in 2-cup portions in my freezer, so I can thaw them and have tacos, nachos, or maybe just a black beans and rice dish for dinner.

Lentils, the French small green ones (du Puy if you can find them), are a year-round staple that I also make and freeze in small portions, so I can eat them warm or cold, with whatever’s in season roasted and heaped on top. Dried chickpeas become hummus or falafel, and the canned ones I use in all sorts of things, like in the chickpea pancakes here — a protein-rich, gluten-free way to have a satisfying meal, and with very few calories, too.

Look, I totally get how boring the idea of dried beans and peas sounds. The packaging is sadder than sad, and they sometimes seem like a lot of work for very little payoff, right? But, wait — let me get on my soapbox for one second — these dried beans and peas are like having a great pair of jeans, ones that go with everything and that can be jazzed up or dressed down. And if you eat pulses regularly, you’ll be able to keep getting into your favorite jeans.

Awhile back, I bought chickpea flour because I wanted to make socca, the Provencal pancake that’s also a lot like farinata, which is made in Italy. It’s ground, dried chickpeas — that’s all. (Plus some water and oil.) The first few times I made them, I liked them, but my measure of quality is how quickly I want to make them again. These chickpea pancakes with leeks I’ve included here? I ate nearly all of them right after I photographed them, then had the rest the next day. The day after that, I made them again.

All of that is to say that while I love the idea of eating what’s good for me because I want to do so, what I really want to eat is what tastes good — and if it’s good for me, all the better.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent” (Running Press, $25).; @cowgirlchef.

Red lentils with roasted honey-chile butternut squash

Serves 2

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  •  1/2 pound red lentils, rinsed
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 pound cubed butternut squash
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until you can smell the onion, about 5 minutes. Add the lentils, stock, and spices. When it comes to a boil, turn the heat to a simmer and cook until the lentils are slightly al dente, about 30 minutes.

2. While the lentils are on the stove, roast the butternut squash. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

3. Put the cubed squash in a medium bowl along with 2 tablespoons olive oil, honey, chile powder, and salt and pepper to taste and toss. Pour out onto a baking sheet and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, flipping over about halfway through.

4. To serve, spoon the lentils into a shallow bowl and add some of the sweet-spicy squash on top.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 995 calories, 47 grams fat, 119 grams carbohydrates, 46 grams protein, no cholesterol, 568 milligrams sodium, 38 grams dietary fiber, 38 percent of calories from fat.

Cannellini beans, roasted cauliflower and arugula salad with Asian chimichurri

Serves 2

  • 1 head of cauliflower, florets removed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 handfuls arugula
  • 1 cup cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • Asian chimichurri, recipe follows

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the cauliflower florets into a bowl with the olive oil and salt and pepper and toss until evenly coated with the oil and seasonings. Transfer to a baking sheet and pop into the oven for 30 to 45 minutes, turning once so the florets brown evenly. Note: You may do this in advance and refrigerate the florets.

2. In two shallow dinner-size bowls or plates, layer: arugula, cannellini beans, and cauliflower florets. Drizzle with Asian chimichurri.

Asian chimichurri

Makes about  1/2 cup

  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger (about a 1-inch piece)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 5 to 6 drops toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons flavorless oil, such as canola or grapeseed

Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Spoon over roasted vegetables, fish, chicken, or whatever else you’ve got on the grill.

Nutritional analysis per serving, without Asian chimichurri: 296 calories, 15 grams fat, 35 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, no cholesterol, 362 milligrams sodium, 12 grams dietary fiber, 42 percent of calories from fat.

Nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving of chimichurri: 68 calories, 7 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, trace cholesterol, 23 grams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 94 percent of calories from fat.

Double chickpea pancakes with leeks and hazelnut Romesco

Makes 1 dozen (3-inch) pancakes

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for oiling the skillet
  • 2 medium leeks, sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 1 cup water
  •  1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Hazelnut Romesco sauce, recipe follows

1. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the leeks. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir frequently and let these cook until soft and just starting to caramelize, about 15 to 20 minutes. Note: You can make these in advance and store in the fridge.

2. To make pancakes, in a medium bowl, mix together the chickpea flour, water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and cumin. Fold in the chickpeas and cooked leeks.

3. Put a little olive oil in your largest skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s nice and hot, using a  1/2 cup measure, make as many pancakes as will easily fit in the pan. Serve right away with hazelnut Romesco sauce.

Hazelnut Romesco

Makes about 1  1/2 cups

  •  1/2 cup hazelnuts, roasted and skins removed
  • 1/2 cup chopped, diced tomatoes (canned are OK)
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper (jarred ones are OK)
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • Sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Put the first 5 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it’s a ground, textured paste. Add the vinegar, oil and salt to taste. If it’s too thick, and you’d like a more pourable sauce, add as much water as you need.

Nutritional analysis per pancake: 101 calories, 5 grams fat, 11 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, no cholesterol, 68 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 46 percent of calories from fat.

Nutritional analysis per 1-tablespoon serving of hazelnut Romesco: 41 calories, 4 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 18 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 85 percent of calories from fat.

Black bean and quinoa mini casseroles

Serves 4

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  •  1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 roasted red pepper, diced (jarred ones are OK)
  • 2 cups black beans, canned or homemade
  • 2 cups corn
  • 2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 2 cups shredded cheese, such as Monterey Jack, cheddar or a mixture
  • Cilantro, chopped, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving
  • Salsa, for serving
  • Tortilla chips, for serving

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and put 4 (2-cup) ramekins on a baking sheet. If you don’t have ramekins, a 7 inch-by-10 inch casserole dish will work, too.

2. Make the quinoa. Put 2 cups of salted water onto boil. When it boils, add the quinoa, stir, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Set this aside.

3. Put the olive oil, onion and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until you can smell the onion and it starts to become translucent, abut 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chopped red bell pepper, the black beans, corn, 2 cups of the cooked quinoa, and the spices. Stir and let cook for 2 to 3 minutes and taste for salt and spices. Let cool.

4. Mix in half of the shredded cheese and distribute evenly among the ramekins. Top with the rest of the cheese and slide into the oven to cook until warmed through and the cheese is melted on top, about 20 minutes. Serve right away, with cilantro, lime, salsa, and chips.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 594 calories, 24 grams fat, 69 grams carbohydrates, 30 grams protein, 50 milligrams cholesterol, 331 milligrams sodium, 13 grams dietary fiber, 35 percent of calories from fat.