Vegetarian friendly proteins and how to cook them

Have you ever considered changing your diet to a vegetarian diet, but were concerned about where you would get your protein from? Believe it or not, following a vegetarian diet is easy — proteins included. An impressively wide range of plant foods are loaded with protein and amazing flavours and textures.

Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain-like seed that cooks much like rice. You can cook quinoa by boiling it in water or soaking it in hot water for absorption or steaming. Keep in mind that quinoa, like rice, will increase in size when cooked to about 3 or 4 times its original size.

I use the ratio of 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water and have always achieved soft and fluffy quinoa. Bring it to the boil then drop the temperature to a simmer and simmer it away for about 15 minutes. Once the grains are tender and have a springy texture, your quinoa is ready to eat.

Use it just like you would rice. I’ve always enjoyed a couple of spoons of quinoa tossed in salads or even in my soups and smoothies. For a full-bodied, nuttier flavour to your quinoa, what I’ve done in my kitchens is to cook the quinoa using the absorption method, then placing the cooked seeds on a dry pan to toast them up. They’ll develop a rich, full-bodied flavour as they toast and dry out. Once they’re toasted you can add them to salads, cereal mixes or even soups that you might want to thicken up.

Lentils

Lentils were always one of the staples growing up in a Middle Eastern family. And even now in my career as a chef I’m often finding myself using lentils when I write recipes or plan menus for the restaurants I work in. With half a cup of lentils provides about 9 grams of protein, they’re a great way to keep you feeling full till your next meal.

One of the most common misconceptions of cooking lentils is that they need to boil. Lentils must not be boiled. If you boil them they’ll split open and turn to mush. The proper way to cook lentils is by gently simmering them in water or vegetable stock for about 25 to 30 minutes. They need a lot of water to cook in, much like pasta does. Once they’re cooked and you’re happy with the texture, drain them off in a colander.

When cooked and stored in the fridge, lentils will remain fresh and full of moisture for about three days. Make sure they’re in an airtight container so they don’t dry out!

A recipe I’ve made in the past was a cold lentil and beetroot salad. Once you cook and drain the lentils, chill them down, add half a finely diced shallot, diced baby beetroot (from a tin or some you’ve cooked yourself) and a splash of good quality olive oil and white wine vinegar. Finish it of with some chopped parsley or a handful of rocket or spinach leaves. It’s a great side dish to include during your next dinner party or even in your lunch for work.

Produce like broccoli, spinach, tofu, beans and chickpeas are great sources of vitamins and protein if you choose to try a vegetarian or vegan diet. Give it a go — you may just surprise yourself with what flavours you can achieve.


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Born and raised in Sydney, Ali grew up surrounded by Middle Eastern cooking. Having worked at the award-winning Aqua Luna Bar & Restaurant, La Sala and the iconic Sydney Cove Oyster Bar — winning several awards for his culinary genius in the process — he now trains future chefs at WelTec, the international award winning School of Hospitality in Wellington, New Zealand.

Ali is passionate about food and cooking, but also loves training hard at the gym, and not only knows what workout fuel tastes great, but the best way to cook it too. We’re excited to have him on our team! For more from Ali, check him out on Instagram and Twitter