Tasty and Thrifty Meat-Free Proteins: Chickpeas, Lentils, Beans and more

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African Stew Recipe

Mujaddara Vegetarian Lentil Stew

At the pinnacle of meat-free or plant-based sources of protein are chickpeas, lentils, broad beans and bulgar. Today, their consumption as a daily food is rapidly spreading throughout North America, especially in the larger cities. Most Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food outlets in North American cities have offered them for years. However, it has only been in the last few decades that many health food stores and supermarkets have begun to feature these protein-rich foods.

In the lands where chickpeas, lentils, broad beans and bulgar have been a part of the daily fare since the inception of plant cultivation, they are regarded as the staff of life. Although the wealthy always ate meat, usually to assert their status, the toiling masses flourished on vegetarian protein alternatives. The meat-related diseases of the affluent were thus never a concern to the peasants and city laborers.

When, at the turn of the last century, immigrants began to pour into North America from the Middle Eastern countries, they brought with them their time-tested cuisine. Armenians, Egyptians, Greeks, Lebanese, Syrians, Turks and other nationalities from that part of the world all had a hand in the spread through the Western hemisphere of these protein-rich foods.


Chickpeas are today the most widely known of these vegetarian delights. Also marketed as garbanzo, ceci, and hummus, chickpeas were introduced into Central and South America by the Spanish Conquistadors, but their cultivation for human consumption never spread to North America. A half-century ago, they were virtually unknown foods in the Northern Hemisphere. Today, they are regular items on supermarket shelves.

Chickpeas, which are the size of peas and pinkish to black in color, are extremely nourishing and a hearty source of protein. What makes them even more sought after as a food is their richness of carbohydrates, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. They also contain a fair amount of fat and vitamins A and B. A basic food for the people of poor countries, chickpeas provide maximum nourishment from minimal cost. (Ed note: According to Healthline, chickpeas contain approximately 14.5 grams of protein per cup of dry chickpeas.)

Toasted, they become crunchier than peanuts and are excellent as in-between-meal snacks or an evening nibble. Made into purées and salads, or served cooked as a vegetable, they are savory and satisfying. Their nut-like flavour makes them a delicious ingredient in endless types of dishes. Nevertheless, their chief utilization is as a replacement for pastas, potatoes, rice, and as a substitute for meat in soups, stews, and stuffings.


The lentil, believed to be one of the first food plants cultivated by man, is an exceptionally nourishing legume. Lentils were also brought to Central and South America by the Spaniards. (Ed note: According to Medical News Today, lentils contain approximately 9 grams of protein per 100 grams of dry lentils.)

This ancient lens-shaped legume comes in a variety of colors ranging from brown, gray, green, yellow to other cross shades. One of the most nutritious foods grown by humans, lentils are an excellent source of carbohydrates, calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin B, and especially protein. Lentils are utilized as a meat substitute in many countries, as they are more easily digested.

In food value, lentils contain as much protein as an equal amount of lean meat — a little less than soy beans, but with fewer calories. They are highly recommended as a health food for low blood pressure, emaciation, anemia, and ulcers.

When cooked, lentils are appetizing and satisfying. They are great as appetizers, as an ingredient in salads, and they impart a favorable meaty taste to soups and stews. After dining on a meal of lentils you can easily believe that a hungry person — like the Biblical Esau who sold his birthright for a dish of this legume — would give almost anything for a lentil stew.

Recipe: Red Lentil Rice Paper Rolls

Red lentils

Broad Beans

Broad beans, also known as fava, vicia, windsor, English dwarf or horse beans, were the only beans known to the inhabitants of the Old World before the discovery of the Americas. Nevertheless, after the many varieties of beans we know today were brought back to Europe from the New World, the cultivation of broad beans for some reason died out on that continent.

However, they continue to be favored in the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. Their high calcium, carbohydrate, phosphorus, potassium, along with their iron, magnesium, protein and vitamins A and C content make them one of the ideal foods for peasants and workers in these parts of the world.

Broad beans are flat, angular seeds which come in various sizes, varying from that of a pea to over one-inch long and half-an-inch wide. Bright green when fresh, all broad beans turn brownish in color when dried, and are not much different in taste from each other.

This historic legume, which some call “the bean of history,” is excellent puréed, in salads, or mouth-watering when made into patties such as falafel. Broad beans are also used in soups and stews.


Bulgar, also known as burghal, bulgar, bulgor, or bulgour, is believed to have been eaten in the Euphrates Valley as far back as 5,000 BC. It is still a part of the daily menu of Middle Eastern peoples.

Made from wheat, which is cooked, dried, then crushed, bulgar is a delicious and nourishing grain product. In the lands where bulgar is consumed daily, it is said that this cereal is the noblest form achieved by wheat. An ideal food for homes where there is no refrigeration, it can be stored for years without deterioration.

The cooking of the wheat preserves most of the nutrients, even when the bran is removed after the grain is crushed. The calcium, carbohydrates, iron, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin B, and protein content are almost all retained. Unmatched as a meat stretcher, it has more food energy than corn meal; more iron than rice; less fat than uncooked wheat; six times more calcium than corn meal and three times more than rice; and more vitamins than barley, corn meal, and rice.

Simple to prepare, bulgar is an inexpensive, natural, wholesome and versatile food. Often used as a replacement for rice, it is cooked in the same fashion as grain. It can be used in every course and every meal of the day, and employed in all types of dishes. Bulgar can be purchased in three sizes: coarse, medium, and fine. The coarse is utilized in pottage dishes; the medium as an ingredient in salads and “meat” patties; fine as a breakfast cereal or dessert. Cooking wheat brings out a nutty-cereal flavor and makes this produce an unexcelled early morning and after-meal food.

Immigrants from numerous Middle Eastern countries have contributed to the spread of meat-free cuisines across North America

Food Combining and Preparation

The protein quality of chickpeas, lentils, and broad beans can be further enhanced by combining them with grains such as rice or bulgar. Prepared in this fashion, with a touch of herbs and spices, they are wholesome, appetizing and contain most of the nutrients needed by the body.

Onions, garlic, salt and pepper are the four basic condiments employed to give greater taste and texture to almost all dishes made from these meat substitutes. The onions and garlic are always fried in olive oil or butter, then added to the remaining ingredients. Other spices used include allspice, coriander, cumin, lemon juice, tomatoes and for a little zest, a pinch of cayenne. When these ancient foods are prepared as appetizers and salads, the usual dressing is olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, salt and pepper.

When prepared from their dried states, these legumes are more delectable and economical. Dried chickpeas and broad beans should be soaked overnight, after which they need about two hours to cook. Lentils can also be soaked, but even without soaking they take less than an hour to be ready. Mixed with onions, garlic, and a touch of herbs and spices, all three dried vegetables make excellent main courses.

Dried chickpeas, lentils and broad beans are also sold canned.  Although not quite as tasty as the dried versions, they take less time to prepare. Most dishes made from the canned legumes take only a few minutes to be table ready, and can be prepared by the most inexperienced of cooks.


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One of the greatest examples of these dishes is mujaddara, made from lentils and bulgur or rice. It has been one of the basic foods of Middle Eastern peasants and labourers since the dawn of history. Even in the homes of the wealthy it is often eaten, but behind closed doors. Because of its peasant connection it is never offered to guests. The affluent feel that the few cents it costs to make this ancient dish is not appropriate for their status. Simple to prepare, nourishing, and mouth-watering, it is truly a vegetarian’s dream. (Serves 4-6)


  • 1 cup lentils, rinsed
  • 5 cups water
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup coarse bulgur or rice, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 3 Tbsp butter

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Beet and Navy Bean Hummus

Adding the peppers to this traditional Middle East dip gives it a wonderful flavor and color, but if you don’t like it spicy, omit the hot pepper. Serve with pita triangles or fresh vegetables. (This recipe is courtesy Foodland Ontario.) (Makes about 2 1/2 cups)


  • 1 roasted Sweet Red Pepper, peeled, seeded, chopped
  • 1 roasted Hot Banana Pepper, peeled, seeded, chopped
  • 1 can (19 oz/540 ml) chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste) or peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Black Lentil Salad with Tzatziki, Avocado, and Pea Shoots

From the Vitality Food Feature ‘A Tale of Two Cookbooks‘.

Isn’t it funny how the things we love to eat at restaurants are often put in the category “too difficult to make at home”? This was definitely the case with tzatziki. Then the first time I actually endeavored to make it, I was struck by how incredibly easy it was and just how much better it tasted fresh from my own kitchen. This dish is a simple spring salad bowl with fresh flavors and satisfying textures.
(Serves 3 to 4)


  • 1 cup black lentils, soaked if possible
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1 cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsp cold-pressed olive oil, plus extra for garnish if desired
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 organic lemon
  • 1/2 tsp raw honey or pure maple syrup
  • 2 ripe avocados, pitted and sliced
  • Handful of fresh pea shoots
  • Tzatziki (see below)

1) In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils and 2 cups of water to a boil.

2) Cover and simmer on low heat until the lentils are tender but not mushy, 15 to 20 minutes (depending on soak time, if any).

3) Halfway through cooking, add a few pinches of salt. When the lentils are tender, drain off any excess water.

4) Put the lentils in a large bowl and add the olives, shallot, parsley, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, honey, and salt to taste. Fold to combine.

5) To serve, put a few spoonfuls of lentil salad on each plate. Top each serving with slices of avocado, some pea shoots, and a generous dollop of tzatziki.

6) Drizzle with extra olive oil if desired.

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Recipe by Linda Gabris

Here’s my favorite recipe for what my family fondly calls “mom’s meatless meat loaf.” It is delightful supper loaf that goes very nicely with steamed carrots and a poached egg, or a side salad and steamed broccoli.


  • 1-1/2 cups of green or brown lentils, or dried split green or yellow peas
  • 2-1/4 cups water
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 6 slices of whole wheat bread, cut into small cubes and dried slightly in the oven to remove excess moisture. For finer textured loaf, use bread or cracker crumbs instead of cubes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large minced onion
  • 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp spicy ketchup
  • Additional 2 tablespoons fine bread crumbs or finely crushed cracker crumbs


• Hemp Butter Hummus:  https://vitalitymagazine.com/article/hemp-butter-hummus/

• Luscious Lentils: 4 Great Recipes:  https://vitalitymagazine.com/article/lovely-lentils/

Habeeb Salloum’s articles have been published in the Toronto Star, Backwoods Home Magazine, Forever Young Information Magazine, and Vegetarian Journal, among others. His most recent book Asian Cooking Made Simple – A Culinary Journey Along the Silk Road and Beyond is available at amazon at: https://tinyurl.com/zk3ueyv

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