Plants can nourish our bodies with an array of inexpensive protein sources. Plant proteins are separated into three categories: grains, legumes, and nuts/seeds. Each category contains most of the eight essential amino acids our bodies need to make a complete protein, but not all eight. By contrast, animal and dairy products — like beef, fish, eggs, and cheese — contain all eight amino acids. So, when you consume plant-based protein sources you need to eat two of the three categories to get a complete set of amino acids.
Here are a few examples of the three categories of plant proteins: Grains include wheat, oats, barley, bulgur, corn, and rice. Legumes are peanuts, lentils, dried peas, and dried beans like kidney, garbanzo, black, and pinto. Nuts and seeds include almonds, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. This is not an exhaustive list.
If you’re new to the idea of combining plant proteins, here are a few popular combinations to consider: beans and rice (legume + grain), oatmeal with almonds (grain + nuts), pita with tahini (grain + seeds), peanut butter on whole grain bread (legume + grain). Once you understand the idea of combining proteins, if you find yourself eating a dish that is based solely on grains or only on legumes it’s easy to add a handful of pecans or sunflower seeds to the meal to make sure you’re getting all eight essential amino acids.
Hummus is a great source of plant protein. When made using garbanzo beans and tahini (legume + seeds), hummus provides all eight essential amino acids. However, sometimes I substitute peanut butter for the tahini, making it a legume-only dish since the garbanzo beans and peanuts are both legumes. In this case I’ll add a handful of almonds or cashews to my finished plate to form a legume + nut combination.
Remember, as long as you have two of the three vegetarian protein sources you are providing your body with all eight essential amino acids. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes easy to pick two from the list: grains, legumes, nuts/seeds.
I like making a batch of hummus on Sunday so I can eat it with raw vegetables for lunch throughout the week. The meal of plant-based protein and raw vegetables helps me feel balanced and nourished the day after I eat it.
This flavorful recipe makes a lemony hummus with a garlicky nip. Cumin and yellow curry add zip while cayenne pepper provides a kick, and all the flavors are tamed by the addition of mellow turmeric.
Hummus with Tahini
Adapted from New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant
Garlic cloves, 3
Parsley, 1 bunch, washed and trimmed of stems
Garbanzo beans, 3 cups freshly cooked or two 15.5-ounce cans, drained and rinsed (I use one can each of garbanzos and white beans)
Zest of one large lemon
Juice of one large lemon, 4-5 tablespoons
Tahini or 100% peanut butter, ½ cup
Olive oil, ¼ cup
Salt, 1-2 teaspoons
Cayenne pepper, ¼ teaspoon
Cumin, ½ teaspoon
Turmeric, 1 teaspoon
Yellow curry, ¼ teaspoon
You’ll also need raw vegetables for dipping, like carrot, cucumber, celery, bell pepper, raw sweet potato, zucchini, whatever floats your boat.
Optional: olives, fresh or dried fruit, and nuts if using peanut butter in place of tahini. Hummus is most easily made in a food processor. However, a blender or potato masher may be used if the garbanzo beans are very tender.
If using a food processor, place the garlic into a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and process until minced. Add the parsley to the processor and chop. Add all of the remaining ingredients and process until a chunky paste forms. The Moosewood cookbook says “the texture of hummus should be rough and creamy at the same time.” Adjust seasonings. Add a little water if mixture is too thick and process a few seconds longer, being careful not to over blend.
If using a blender, the hummus should be made in 2 or 3 batches with frequent stops to stir the contents up from the bottom of the blender using as much water as needed.
If done by hand, mash the garbanzo beans with a bit of water in a flat-bottomed bowl with a potato masher or large pestle. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Serve the dip with raw vegetable sticks or toasted pita bread. This is also a fine side dish with a Mediterranean menu. Hummus will keep for several days refrigerated. It freezes very well.