Rice and beans is one of those ubiquitous combos that can be found in classic dishes all over the world, from the Creole red beans and rice to the Korean kongbap. It's easy, it's inexpensive, and it may just be one of the healthiest starting points for a meatless meal. Here's why... In order to build muscle, skin and other important parts of the body, you need 21 amino acids, nine of which are considered “essential” because you can’t make them on your own—you have to get them through food. A complete protein, like animal meat, contains all nine of those essential amino acids, while an incomplete protein, like grains or legumes, is deficient in one or more of them.
So what’s a vegetarian to do? “It’s all about combining sources, so that where one food is lacking, another picks up the slack” says registered dietitian Andrea Giancoli. You don't necessarily need to eat grains and legumes at the same meal to get a complete protein—a healthy, varied diet will do the trick, and getting your protein from a variety of plants will ensure that your body has all the building blocks it needs.
If you're going veg, mastering the basic grain + legume formula is a good way to have your bases covered. Try it in the form of whole wheat bread and peanut butter, a lentil and bulgur salad or, as in yesterday's meatless recipe, pasta and beans.
-- Text by Lee Helland