Variations on a Theme II - Meal Patterns

In Part I of this posting, we listed many grains and legumes. That's a good beginning.

But this knowledge alone is not exactly useful when you don't know what to make for dinner! If you want to cut down on your meat consumption - for whatever reason - maybe you are disturbed about the environmental impact of the USA's factory farms, or maybe you have health reasons to cut down on meat or maybe for other reasons - you need to know *what to have for dinner*.

Many of us in the Western World grew up with one particular pattern for dinner (and only one pattern):

Meat or fish
A green vegetable
Maybe a yellow vegetable too
A source of starch, such as potatoes or rolls or rice
Maybe a salad

If you remove the meat or fish from the plate, that dinner pattern is not satisfying at all. It's nutritional content isn't sufficient. People aren't going to feel that they have had enough to eat, nor will they feel that it's aesthetically satisfying.

But if we look, again, to ethnic and traditional foods from other cultures, we will find several meal patterns that are based on grains plus legumes. These meal patterns include many of the world's great dishes; many of them are 'national dishes', so to speak, that almost define a culture.

Let's take a look at a few of these patterns. In each case, I will include a few examples. (There are many other such pattern-meals based on whole grain and legumes that I'm not listing here.)

1. The soup or stew meal. In this case, the legume is included in the soup or stew. Sometimes the grain is also included in the soup or stew, and sometimes it's separate - in the cases where it is separate, it is usually some form of bread, whether whole-wheat rolls, Irish soda bread, biscuits (which can be made from whole-grain flour and are, in fact, delicious when made that way), pita, or tortillas.

Sometimes this meal pattern includes a green salad. When the soup/stew has many vegetables, I don't include a salad. If the soup or stew consists mainly of beans, then I will include a salad.

Famous meals with this pattern are:

* Minestrone - Italian - in this case, the soup includes beans and pasta. It may be accompanied by bread too.
* Chili - TexMex - accompanied by a bread, usually cornbread or corn muffins.
* Split pea soup - American (?) - accompanied by biscuits, rolls or corn bread
* Lentil soup - American (?) - accompanied by biscuits, rolls or corn bread.
* Vegetable soup which includes beans - French or others - with rolls. (Example recipe:
* Senate bean soup - American - with a bread.

There are many other hearty soups which include a little bit of meat; the meat is used as a flavoring. These soups, whether meatless or with meat, are a full meal. They are nutritionally good, and aesthetically and physically satisfying.

2. The whole or cracked grain with a thick bean sauce over it or the grain can be a breadstuff served next to the beans. The grain can be made into a pilaf, or cooked plain. The grain in this case is often rice, but can be bulgur (wheat), or corn (maize) in the form of polenta or corn-meal mush. The grain can be millet too, or buckwheat (in the form of kasha).

Meals with this pattern include:

* Feijoada - Brazilian - rice with a black bean sauce containing vegetables and flavorings. Sometimes it includes meat.
* Black beans and rice - Cuban - spicy black bean sauce served over rice.
* Red beans and rice - New Orleans - spicy red bean sauce served over rice.
* Koshari - Egyptian - Lentils and rice, served with macaroni
* Various lentil and rice dishes, such as Mediterranean Lentils (Recipe at:
* Gallo Pinto - Nicaraguan - Rice cooked with spices, onions, and red or black beans.
* Nshima with various sauces - Various African countries - Nshima is similar to cornmeal mush, but made with white cornmeal and made stiffer. A typical sauce would include beans, vegetables, and spices.
* Cassoulet - French - white beans cooked with meats and served with French bread
* Boston baked beans - New England - served with brown bread.

3. The pureed beans meal. This is a puree of beans, with breads and vegetables to dip into it, or accompanied by rice.

* Hummus - Middle Eastern - a puree of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, cumin, and lemon juice, with pita and vegetables to dip.
* Ful - Egyptian, Sudanese, etc. - served for breakfast in its own cultures, but could be dinner or lunch here. Includes fava beans (or other beans) and tahini, and is served with chopped hard-boiled eggs, diced tomato, chopped onions, and (often but not always) feta cheese.
* Refried beans and rice - Mexican - can be kidney beans, pinto beans, or black beans. The beans are made flavorful with spices, onions, garlic and sometimes chopped peppers.
* Mushy peas - UK - traditionally served with 'chips' (French fried potatoes) and fish.

4. The stir-fry with rice pattern. This is Asian in origin, and although today's Asians universally eat white rice, we can eat brown rice instead and increase the nutritional value plus the flavor of our stir-fries.

There are so many variations on stir-fries that I can't even begin to list them all, but many times stir-fries will include tofu or tempeh (the legume) as well as assorted vegetables, gingerroot, garlic, onions, soy sauce (I prefer tamari to regular soy sauces), and sherry. The gravy can be thickened with a cornstarch/water solution if desired.

5. The Indian pattern of rice and/or a chapati (whole wheat flat bread), with a bean sauce (called 'dahl') on the side plus a vegetable curry. These meals are often accompanied by a yogurt-based salad, called a 'raita'. A typical raita would have chopped cucumber, chopped tomato, chopped onion, cumin, and plain yogurt.

There are various dahls - some are made from lentils plus spices, some from chickpeas, some from split yellow peas. There are an almost infinite number of vegetable curries, so I won't try to list them. A simplified or Indian-style meal recipe is here: .

6. The Ethiopian and Mexican pattern of beans (and other foods) served on a bread. From Mexico, this includes burritos, tacos, and tostadas made with beans. Even though served on a tortilla, these foods are sometimes accompanied by rice too.

The Ethiopian bread is called injera, made with the grain 'teff', and served with a thick lentil dish, plus various vegetable and meat stews. Injera is a large flat bread, the foods are placed on it in separate piles, and eaten with the hand.

The Middle-Eastern falafel fits into this pattern. Falafel is a spicy burger made mainly from ground chickpeas, accompanied by lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and tahini, served on a pita.

We've identified five broad patterns for grain and legume-based meals:

1. The soup or stew meal.
2. The pattern of whole or cracked grains with a thick bean sauce.
3. The pureed bean meal.
4. The Asian stir-fry pattern including tofu or tempeh, vegetables, and rice.
5. The Indian pattern of rice, dahl, and vegetable curry.
6. The Ethiopian and Mexican pattern of beans (and other foods) served on a bread.

There are other famous bean meals that don't fit into any of these patterns. And then of course there are adaptations of meat meals, some of which can be quite good: bean burgers come immediately to mind.

More detailed information on cooking beans, general advice, equivalencies, etc. can be found in my blog post entitled 'Eating Beans and Rice':

If you are new to eating whole, basic, natural foods, and/or new to eating less meat, it would probably be very helpful for you to buy a few cookbooks that give recipes for these foods. My top choice of cookbook for this purpose is 'Extending the Table', one of the World Community Cookbooks published by the Mennonite Central Committee - you can read about 'Extending the Table' here: .

This is a really lovely book: it's not 'food of the rich' but food as eaten by ordinary people in many countries of the world - much of it legume and grain-based. It has good recipes, and good coverage of the world's food, especially Africa (which is usually totally ignored in Western cookbooks). I cannot say enough good things about 'Extending the Table'. It also has little homilies, a few of which are explicitly Christian. This doesn't bother me, but if it bothers you, you can skip the explicitly Christian ones.

My second choice of cookbook for this purpose is 'Lean Bean Cuisine' by Jay Solomon. Just what it says: bean cuisine. Solomon includes many bean recipes. They are appealing to me; flavorful and satisfying.

I would *very strongly* recommend that you read about vegetarian nutrition as well (even if you are only cutting down on meat, and will continue to eat some meat). In this connection, I recommend 'The New Laurel's Kitchen, A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition,' by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Brian Ruppenthal and 'Diet for a Small Planet, 20th Anniversary Edition' by Frances Moore Lappe. Both of these classics discuss vegetarian nutrition and both have many really good recipes.

My other recommendation here is 'Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure,' by Lorna Sass. The use of a pressure cooker is a tremendous time and fuel saver when you are cooking dried beans (as well as other foods). Lorna Sass is the definitive pressure-cooker cookbook author, and this particular book (in my opinion) is her best. It includes directions for cooking every imaginable whole grain plus many, many beans, as well as excellent recipes! Lorna's recipes rock!

There are many other cookbooks useful for bean and grain cuisine, but I think these are the most important, so I'll stop now. Besides it's breakfast time for me. :) (Why do I write before breakfast? I don't know, except that I have always been a distinctly morning person.)

Peace, Pat
17 June 2007

Return to Article Index.

Return to Brian and Pat Meadows' Home Page.

mail-to gif

Comments or questions to:

Copyright © 2007 Patricia Meadows
All Rights Reserved