- 2 Tbs butter or oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 Tbs + ½ tsp sea salt
- 1-inch fresh ginger, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1.5 cups red lentils, rinsed
- 5 cups vegetable stock or water
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 5 oz bag fresh spinach
- In a small soup pot or large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter or ghee and add onions and salt. Stir and cook until onions are translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add ginger, garlic, coriander, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, and black pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add red lentils and broth or water, bring to a boil, and turn down to a simmer. Cook until red lentils are tender and begin to fall apart, about 20 - 25 minutes. Stir occasionally so that the lentils don't stick to the bottom of the pan.
- About 10 minutes in, add the tomatoes.
- Once tender, stir spinach into the lentils and cook until wilted and bright green, about 1 minute.
- Serve over brown rice or quinoa.
Vegetarian Protein Goodness
Did you know that lentils are 30% protein? This makes them a vegetarian protein. The building blocks of protein are called amino acids. Your body needs to consume 9 of the 20 amino acids through food because it cannot produce them itself. We call these 9 the “essential amino acids.” Lentils contain all 9 of the essential amino acids but one of the amino acids, methionine, is in very low quantities. This lack of an essential amino acid in sufficient quantities makes lentils a protein source of “low biological value.” That means that the amino acids role of repairing muscle tissue, creating hormones and enzymes, and forming your DNA is not being optimized in your body. Which means a harder recovery post-exercise! Womp womp.
But wait! There’s something we can do about this! Brown rice, which contains about 10% protein, contains methionine in high enough quantities, yay! So we can eat them together to make a protein source of high biological value. The lentils also make up for the essential amino acid that brown rice lacks, which is called lysine. We call this matching of different proteins to form one complete protein, complimentary proteins.
Complementary Protein Myth
The myth, however, is that incomplete proteins (low biological value) need to be eaten together at the same time in order to “count” as a complete protein. Note the word myth. Eating protein complements sometime over the course of a few days of each other works too. So why eat these lentils with brown rice? Because it’s delicious, that’s why. But not necessary for the high biological benefits.
Basically, the main takeaway is to always eat a well-rounded diet of a variety of plant proteins. Eating different and new things all the time also makes life more interesting too!
Other Plant Protein Sources to Incorporate into Your Life:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Almond butter
- Black beans
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Coconut flour
There are also protein “boosters.” These will never, and should never, be eaten in large enough quantities to be a main complementary source of protein, but they are high in protein in themselves so a good addition to your meal. A few examples of these are:
- Nutritional yeast
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Cacao powder
Oh, and have you seen the frozen organic brown rice at Trader Joe’s? Major score. I’m obsessed. I just open a bag and throw in the frozen rice a few minutes before I add the spinach and no extra dishes necessary! Plus this dish freezes amazing and makes for awesome leftovers in your insulated Lunch Bot so that you can have some hot Daal on the mountain while skiing.