If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know I’m not a huge meat-eater. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the odd burger. I do. I just don’t buy meat very often. It’s a personal choice and I have my reasons… but that’s for another post.
With that in mind, I sometimes find it difficult to come up with delicious, satisfying dinner ideas that don’t revolve around an animal. Yes, I love experimenting with different grain-and-veg combinations. They are indeed delicious… but not always completely satisfying.
Through school, I’ve learned this can be attributed to several things, such as a lack of complete protein in the diet (a.k.a foods containing all of the essential amino acids). Meat, fish, eggs, milk and soy are complete proteins. Most plant-based foods, such as beans, nuts, and brown rice, are incomplete proteins.
Sidenote: I’ve had friends ask me why some amino acids are called “essential.” Here’s the deal. There are approx. 22 common amino acids that, in different combinations, make up thousands of different types of proteins. Eight of those amino acids cannot be made by the liver. Hence, it is “essential” that we include them in our diets.
In case you’re wondering: those 8 essentials are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
But never fear, herbivores! You can have a complete protein by combining two or more incomplete proteins, such as brown rice and lentils, into one meal. This way, you’ll consume the entire spectrum of essential amino acids – those all-important building blocks of life. Seriously, they are nutritional beasts! Check it:
Amino acids link together to form over 50,000 unique proteins and 20,000 different enzymes. And they do this all day long as we go about our business, totally oblivious. The human body is a crazy awesome machine.
Without amino acids…
- Our hormones would be a mess
- Our muscles and bones would get weak
- Our nails would break
- Our hair would fall out
- We wouldn’t be able to concentrate… or perform any normal brain functions, for that matter…
- We’d have no energy because we’d lack the enzymes required for metabolism
- (Not to mention the nasty digestive issues that go along with that)
- We’d constantly be getting sick because we wouldn’t have antibodies
- We’d bleed profusely from a paper cut because we wouldn’t have blood clotting factors
- And we’d become deficient in important vitamins and minerals, leading to a whole host of other health problems.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds positively terrible to me. So yeah… I’m not going to mess with amino acids.
And I knew I would be getting all of my amino acids when I made this awesome Lentil Walnut Loaf from . Lentils + Oats + Walnuts + Whole grain bread = All kinds of protein!
My brother recently moved to Toronto to attend college. He lives in a dorm without a proper kitchen, so I try to have him over for dinner once a week. He tells me the types of food he’s been eating, and I know he’s a student but… oh it’s just frightening. That’s why I try to make rock star nutritious meals for him when he comes over.
My bro Hamilton and his favourite, homemade spaghetti
Case-in-point: Lentil Walnut Loaf. Packed with protein, healthy fats, veggies and whole grains. Can’t go wrong.
I was a little wary about whether he would like it or not. He’s a born-and-raised carnivore and has been known to frequently eat seconds – and thirds – of all kinds of meat-based meals. The boy loves his meat, and he has a big, big appetite.
Imagine my surprise when, not only did he like this dish, he went back for seconds (as did I), and after that… he was full! (As was I… oh was I ever). It was tasty, satisfying, and hungry-brother-approved. Most definitely a win.
Recipe (slightly adapted from ):
1 cup dry lentils
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup sweet onion, diced
1 medium carrot, grated
1/2 medium sweet potato, grated
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1.5 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup regular oats, ground into a flour in a food processor
1 tbsp ground flax seed
3/4 cup breadcrumbs (or two slices of toast ground in a food processor)
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp apple butter
Rinse lentils, add them to medium saucepan with vegetable stock and bring to boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer until liquid is absorbed and lentils are tender (about 45 minutes), stirring frequently. Once cooked, set lentils aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 350 F and line a loaf pan with parchment (parchment paper should hang over the edges by 2 inches).
Toast walnuts at 350F for about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté onion and garlic for about 5 minutes on low-medium heat. Once onions are soft, add carrot and sweet potato and sauté for 2-3 minutes over low heat. Add raisins and walnuts, sauté another 2 minutes. Add thyme, salt, and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.
If you don’t have breadcrumbs: Lightly toast two slices of bread, rip into pieces and process in food processor until small breadcrumbs are left.
Once lentils are cooled, place three-quarters of the lentils in food processor. Process until mostly smooth (some small lentils will remain). Scoop mixture into a large bowl and add in the remaining non-processed lentils. Add the breadcrumbs, egg, veggie mixture, oat flour, and ground flax seed. Stir well with a spoon, then mix well with your hands. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Dump the mixture into your loaf pan and spread out with a spoon. Use your hands to press the mixture firmly and evenly into the pan.
To make glaze: In small bowl combine all glaze ingredients. Spread evenly over loaf and bake uncovered for 45 minutes at 350F.
Cool for 10-15 minutes and serve. Makes about 8 thick slices.
It does take some time but not much work – a lot of the time is spent waiting for it to bake. And trust me, the wait is worth it! I think this would be a fantastic addition to a vegetarian Thanksgiving menu…