Ring the changes with legumes

Particularly towards the end of winter, it's sometimes difficult to vary the menu and, it's common to get fed up with the same old, same old...

Particularly towards the end of winter, it's sometimes difficult to vary the menu and, it's common to get fed up with the same old, same old... being a food writer doesn't mean that we constantly eat gourmet delicacies at home! Indeed, working with food all day tends to dampen one's enthusiasm for coming home and cooking!

New Zealand's traditional food pattern of "meat and two veges" came about because ours was essentially a rural economy and meat, mainly in the form of lamb or mutton, was readily available, most homes boasted a vegetable garden and the very nature of physically hard work demanded solid, nourishing food. Apart from that, the range of available ingredients was pretty limited.

We've grown away from that over the years, as more Kiwis fled the nest, returning with ideas from overseas, and as our population's ethnic mix changed. More people opted for a vegetarian lifestyle and, gradually, our way of eating has broadened and changed as more ingredients became available and urbanisation increased.

I like to include non-meat options in our family's regime; for one thing, it's good for the children to learn to eat different types of food. Legumes – beans, lentils and peas – are among mankind's oldest foods, but sadly they've gained an unappetising reputation linked to alternative lifestyles, sandals, lentil rissoles – and the antisocial after-effects produced!!!

There's a great range of beans available in dried or canned form – and if you pick the likes of garbanzos (chick peas) they have a range of healthy properties, like lowered cholesterol.

Legumes make nutritious dishes that can easily become part of the family pattern of eating, providing a tasty alternative to red meat from time to time. They're protein-rich as well as being sources of B vitamins, iron, folic acid and starch or oil; some, those with coloured skins, have antioxidant properties, while soybeans – staples in some countries like China and Japan – also contain useful isoflavones.

And what about the windy effect? Long, slow cooking helps, as does boiling them briefly, and letting them stand for an hour before starting the cooking which leaches out the problem – but it also leaches out many of the beneficial nutrients, so it may be better too suffer, if not in total silence!

I tend to use canned beans; the skins on dried ones, heat-treated before importing, can be a bit tough. Try some of these recipes to ring the changes at your table, using beans and lentils in a variety of tasty ways.

We know that kids love baked beans, but by making your own Boston Baked Beans, you can cut down on the salt and sugar content and they're every bit as delicious, or try Homemade Beans 'n Bacon.

Turn sausages into a one-pot meal with this great Sausage And Bean Casserole; packed with vegetables, in a rich tomato sauce, there are also beans and lentils – full of flavour. The topping is simple but you could add a little grated cheese as well – it is up to you.

Thai Lentil And Bean Cakes bring together the colourful combination of white haricot beans and dark brown lentils which, combined with the Asian flavours, make super vegetarian bean cakes. Adding the mango and mint salad on top really enhances the bean cakes. If you do not have time to soak the beans you will need about 3 cups of cooked canned beans that you will need to have drained well.

Beans and lentils are a common feature of Indian meals. Creamy Lentils And Beans is a creamy, fragrant and fabulous dish served with rice, garnished with extra chopped coriander.

Before refrigeration meat was salted for preservation. In Roast Salted Duck With Rum Soaked Apples And Thyme Lentils we have modified this old culinary method to flavour a simple and elegant roast duck.

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