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September, 2008

Beans and Legumes

By Cheryl Forberg

Ramadan is a Muslim holiday celebrated on the ninth month of the lunar cycle. During this period, Muslims celebrate Ramadan by fasting each day from sunrise to sunset as an act of obedience and a form of worship. The daily fast is broken at sunset with a traditional stew called Harira.

Harira with Roasted Vegetables
Ramadan is a Muslim holiday celebrated on the ninth month of the lunar cycle. This year, it occurs from September 1 to September 30. During this period, Muslims celebrate Ramadan by fasting each day from sunrise to sunset as an act of obedience and a form of worship. The daily fast is broken at sunset with a traditional stew called Harira.

This thick and satisfying concoction is a meal in itself. Depending on the region in which it’s served, the recipe usually contains tomatoes, lentils, garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas), olive oil, herbs, spices, onions and sometimes rice and/or a small amount of meat.

The large amount of plant proteins found in the garbanzo beans and lentils in this dish make it a perfect candidate for a vegetarian meal. It doesn’t hurt that beans and legumes confer a myriad of health benefits too. Excellent sources of fiber, they’re also rich in folic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and antioxidants. The complex carbohydrates they contain provide steady energy that lasts well beyond mealtime. The downside of eating beans is occasional digestive problems, especially if we don’t eat them regularly. As complex carbohydrates, beans contain a variety of complex sugars such as stachyose and raffinose. These sugars require special enzymes to break them down. If the enzymes are absent in the digestive tract, the sugars begin to ferment, creating gas and intestinal distress.

When preparing dried beans from scratch, it helps to soak the beans overnight. This initiates the process of dissolving the complex sugars and thus minimizes their uncomfortable side effects. Before cooking the beans, they should be drained, rinsed and covered with fresh water. Supplemental enzymes that ease digestive problems are available on the market, and they can be taken just before eating your first bite of beans. Most of these enzymes cannot be added to the beans as they are cooking, because the high heat inactivates them.

One half cup serving of cooked lentils contains 8 grams of dietary fiber, and a whopping 9 grams of protein. Lentils are also one of the richest natural sources of folate. There is also evidence that lentils in the diet may contribute to improved control of blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides due to their high fiber content. Lentils do not require pre-soaking, and they cook quickly. Perhaps, my favorite thing about beans and legumes is that they cost a fraction of the price of most animal proteins.

Harira with Roasted Vegetables

Harira, a hearty and satisfying stew, is traditionally served to break the fast at the end of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. This vegetarian version is loaded with fiber. It is thickened with the starch of garbanzo beans and lentils. Roasting some of the vegetables instead of cooking them in the stew gives an added flavor dimension.

Yield: Nine cups
Servings: Eight

1/2 (14 ounce) package Melissa’s Firm Organic Tofu
1 large yellow onion, chopped
8 inch celery stalk, cut crosswise into 4 pieces
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Melissa’s Minced Garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
4 cups fat-free chicken or vegetable broth
1-1/2 cups Melissa’s Steamed Garbanzo Beans
1 (17.63 ounce) package Melissa’s Steamed Lentils (2-1/2 cups cooked)
2 medium tomatoes, diced or 1 cup tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish:
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, without stems

Instructions:
Wrap tofu block in paper towels or a cotton towel, and place a heavy weight, such as a heavy skillet, on top. Let stand for 30 minutes to release excess water. Cut into ½-inch dice. Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly coat a 15 x 10-inch baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray. Peel and halve the onion. Cut each half in quarters. Place onion and celery on baking sheet and roast for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool and finely chop onion and celery. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, garlic, and spices. Cook, stirring, until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add garbanzo beans, lentils, and tomatoes, and simmer about 5 minutes or until beans are nearly tender. Add diced tofu and simmer for 5 minutes longer. Season soup with salt and pepper and garnish with cilantro.

Note:
If reheating soup the second day, you may need to thin it with additional broth, readjust the seasoning, and add more fresh cilantro.