Variations on a Theme I - Food Patterns

I've been thinking about a theme or pattern relative to food. So far as I know, most of the world's peoples (cultures) have relied for sustenance chiefly on a combination of grains plus legumes. Grains plus legumes are their main calorie and protein sources, with vegetables, fruits, and other foods supplying nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Herbs and spices add flavor, and oils add calories and nutrients. Eggs and dairy foods are valuable supplements for many people, with meat generally being an occasional treat reserved for festivals and similar great occasions.

There are a few exceptions to this reliance on grains plus legumes, such as the Inuit relying on seal meat and whale blubber, South Pacific Islanders relying on breadfruit, or the Irish and potatoes. These exceptions are usually caused by living in areas which are not suitable for growing any reasonable quantity of grains plus legumes.

It sounds pretty boring when you say it like that: grains plus legumes. Nevertheless, there are almost endless variations on this theme and it has supplied the basis of many of the world's greatest cuisines and most famous dishes. So I'd like to run down the list of grains and the list of legumes, first, and then note some of the great dishes made from them.

I'm not doing research on this, the grains and legumes will just be those that I remember... and they will all be generally available to people in the developed countries. (I doubt if I have any readers from Third World countries - and if I do - they no doubt already know how to best use the food available to them).

First, the grains. All of these can be eaten in the form of whole grains with their nutrition intact.

  • Wheat
  • Brown rice - Long-grain, short-grain rice, Basmati, jasmine, black rice, red rice
  • Rye
  • Corn (Maize) - White, yellow, blue, multi-colored
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Oats
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Kamut
  • Spelt
  • Buckwheat
  • Barley
  • Sorghum
That's 15 grains, and I've probably forgotten a few. There are many varieties within most of these grains, a very few of which I've listed (corn and rice).

Most of these grains can be eaten in the following forms:

  • Whole
  • Cracked
  • Made into flakes
  • Ground into flour

And some can be:

  • Puffed
  • Popped

With those various forms, many different foods can be made, including all the world's many different breads and pancakes. The various forms of grain are used for pilafs, cereals, soups, and a multiplicity of other foods.

Now let's take a look at legumes - I'll list legumes until I get tired of doing it (there are many more legumes than grains). First I'll list some of the 'odd' ones, the ones that are not in the species Phaseolus vulgaris:

  • Soybeans
  • Lentils, brown, red or green
  • Dried whole peas, yellow or green
  • Split peas, yellow or green
  • Pigeon peas
  • Chickpeas (garbanzos)
  • Fava beans (broad beans in the UK)
  • Runner beans
  • Tepary beans (many varieties)
  • Cowpeas (includes black-eyes peas, )
  • Lima beans
  • Hyacinth beans
  • Adzuki beans
  • Mung beans
  • Moth beans

Now just a few of the common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) :

  • Black beans
  • Navy beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Cannelini beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Good Mother Stallard beans
  • Anasazi beans
  • Great Northern beans
  • Calypso bean
  • Cherokee Trail of Tears bean
  • Jacob's cattle bean
  • Hidatsa shield figure bean
  • Lazy housewife bean
  • Hutterite soup beans
  • Lina Sisco's bird egg bean
  • Tiger's eye bean
  • Cranberry bean
  • Arikara yellow bean
  • Brockton horticultural bean
  • Boston favorite bean

There are dozens more, I'm sure. But I think this will be plenty to give you the idea that there are lots of different beans. Some differ in minor ways from other; some are very different.

As an aside, please note that, according to Wikipedia:

Some raw beans, for example kidney beans, contain harmful toxins (lectins) which need to be removed, usually by various methods of soaking and cooking. The soaking water from kidney beans should be discarded before boiling, and some authorities recommend changing the water during cooking as well. Cooking beans in a slow cooker, because of the lower temperatures often used, may not destroy toxins even though the beans do not smell or taste 'bad'[1] (though this should not be a problem if the food reaches boiling and stays there for some time).

Beans can be cooked in various ways: boiled and baked are two common preparation methods. Some beans can be popped. Dried beans can be ground into flour, and the flour used in various ways. The falafels of the Middle East are based on ground chickpeas, for example. Beans can be made into tempeh, which is often based on soybeans, but other beans can be used. Soybeans can be made into tofu, tempeh, miso, or tamari.

So there is a tremendous variety of ingredients to work with for the basis of your grain and legume dinners. When you add the many vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, and other foods, there is an almost infinite variety.

The next post will discuss meal patterns, and some very good meals based on grains and legumes.

08 June 2007

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