Saturday, January 21, 2012

Black bean and corn soup

As a vegetarian, I have had to entertain numerous questions from my meat-eating counterparts – ‘when did you decide to go vegetarian?’ (at birth); ‘don’t you wish you could taste this chicken?’ (No!); ‘is it the smell or the texture that you don’t like?’ (can’t really say, because, like I said, I’ve never eaten meat); and of course, ‘aren’t you missing out on nutrients?’ The answer to this last question is that it is entirely possible to obtain good nutrition from a vegetarian diet, provided that you pay some attention to choosing and pairing your foods. One thing to pay particular attention to is your protein intake. Proteins are an essential part of your diet and your bodies and are built up of combinations of 20 different amino acids. 10 of these 20 amino acids are termed “essential”, because our bodies cannot make them, and they must be acquired in the diet. The interesting thing about protein is that if your diet is lacking in any particular amino acid, it can wreak havoc on your body regardless of how much of the other amino acids you consume. While animal sources of protein like meat and eggs contain all the essential amino acids, vegetarian sources of protein often contain only some of the essential 10. This led to the nutrition concept of pairing complementary sources of protein, like beans and rice, for instance, to create a “complete” protein source. While traditionally people were advised to consume these so-called complementary proteins together, studies now show that they need not be consumed at the same meal. You can space them apart even by weeks, as long as you’re careful to consume a variety of foods in your daily diet.

Regardless of this change in nutrition wisdom, there are some foods that pair so well together that I almost always end up combining them in recipes, anyhow. One such pairing is that of black beans and corn – another example of complementary proteins. In my house, we eat this combination at least once a week – on pizza, on tacos, or simply tossed together into a hearty and spicy winter soup. So read on for my recipe for Black bean and corn soup – a perfect complement to chilly winter’s evenings.

You will need:

2 T olive oil

1 red onion, finely diced

4 large pods of garlic, finely minced

2 tomatoes, diced

1 T coriander powder

1 T cumin powder

2 T red chili powder (optional)

1 T cumin seeds

1 can reduced-sodium black beans (or 1 C black beans, soaked overnight and pressure-cooked until soft)

1 C corn kernels

3 C water

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt to taste

2 tsp corn starch

For garnish:

1 T chopped cilantro

1/4 avocado, sliced

Heat oil in a pan, and add cumin seeds

Once they start to sizzle, add onions and garlic, and sautée until onions are translucent

Add tomatoes and some salt, and cook on medium-high until tomatoes are wilted

Add all spices, and sautée for 2 more minutes

Toss in black beans beans and corn, and add water

Add more salt, as required, and boil uncovered for about 10 minutes, until beans and corn are somewhat softened

Add corn starch and boil for an additional 3-5 minutes to thicken soup

Squeeze in lemon juice and take soup off heat

Ladle into a big bowl, top with chopped cilantro and avocado slices

Serve hot with toasted pita bread

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