Wondrous Legumes

Considering the richness in variety of the world of foods, the legume is truly a wondrous thing. Legumes are the fruit of a plant from the Leguminosae, or Fabaceae family.  The term also refers to the plant itself.  What typifies the legume is the pod in which the fruit grows, although this is not unique to the legume as the term pod is also applied to several other fruit types such as vanilla.

In his book, “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” Harold McGee states that legumes belong to the third largest family among the flowering plants (after the orchid and daisy families), and the second most important family in the human diet, after the grasses.  The reason legumes are such an important part of the human diet is because of their high protein content which is two to three times that of wheat and rice.

Many cultures have based their very existence on the availability of legumes in their diet because they are a much less costly source of protein than animal foods.  Legumes can be dried and stored for long periods of time and the consumption of them spans the globe in a major number of cultures, especially in: Asia, Central and South America, and the Mediterranean.  There are approximately twenty species of legumes grown on a large scale, including: soybean, black-eyed pea, chickpea, pea, alfalfa, lima bean, lentil, and peanut.

Legumes are also a significant source of green fertilizer because of their ability to add nitrogen back into the soil.  This is the reason farmers rotate crops such as cotton and alfalfa.  “Nitrogen makes up almost 80 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, but only bacteria can transform atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can absorb: ammonia. This is called “fixing” the nitrogen, and plants rely heavily on this ammonia for food. Legumes provide a small amount of plant sugars and create nodes on their roots where these bacteria (usually Rhizobium) can feed and replicate. In return, legumes absorb the nitrogen fixed by the bacteria. Plants around the legumes, or that grow in the same soil later, also benefit from the fixed nitrogen.” (Samantha Belyeu, What is the importance of legumes?, eHow, (07/2011))

The British love their peas, so it’s not surprising when celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis cooked for the charity polo match the royal couple attended on July 9th, on the menu was a dish based on this wonderful legume.  The dish is called Pea Pesto Crostini.  You can read more about it at Giada to cook for the newlywed royal couple.

I recently tried something new with legumes; making Green Hummus.  Instead of Chickpeas, this recipe calls for Edamame, or baby soybeans.  Of course, some will object to calling this dish ‘Hummus’ as hummus is an Arabic word, meaning chickpea.  However, I do not believe words are defined by their etymology, but by their usage.

Green Hummus

Here is my recipe for you:

Green Hummus


2 c Edamame, shelled (fresh or frozen)

2 T Tahini

2 T Olive oil

3 cloves Garlic, fresh

¼ c Lemon juice

1 t Kosher salt

2 T Water from steaming edamame

Seasoned oil

2 T Olive oil

½ t Cumin

¼ t Coriander


Prepare seasoned oil by combining 2 T Olive oil, Cumin and Coriander in small pan and heat over low flame until flavors blend.  Cool.

Cook edamame in steamer basket for 8 minutes.  (Place steamer basket in pot.  Fill with water to a level below the bottom of the basket.  Bring water to boil over high heat.  Add edamame.  Continue cooking on high.)

Cool in a bath of ice water.  This will help bring out the green color of the edamame.

Drain in colander.  Make sure to save the water from cooking.

Remove the inner skin of the edamame by gently squeezing each bean between your thumb and forefinger.

Reserve several of the edamame to use as garnish.

Put all the remaining ingredients into a food processor and process until very smooth.

Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Drizzle with seasoned oil.

Serve with fresh pita bread and olives.