Protein for the Plant-Based Permaculturalist

A Parade of Pulses

Whether plant-based eating (veganism) is the guiding force behind your diet, or you simply enjoy having plant-based dishes just because plants taste good, there is something to be gained from experimenting with plant foods. In particular, pulses are great for providing some substance and protein to plant-based meals. And, for those omnivores amongst us, this doesn’t mean meat doesn’t exist, but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy (or try) a bean burger or some other leguminous treat every now and again.

My wife Emma and I have been vegans for nearly a decade now. Luckily, we came to the practice with a penchant for beans and rice. I, being from Louisiana, grew up with a myriad of this particular combination. And, having lived in Central America for several years, Emma also developed a taste for it. A pot of beans, a pot of rice, and some fresh vegetables has long served us as an ample and nutritious meal. Sometimes the combo comes out as soup, sometimes the items are plated separately, or sometimes the beans may become more sauce-like to be doled out over the rice. We might use Cajun seasonings, Indian spices, Middle Eastern flavours, Mexican palettes, or even Italian herbs. The trio has served us well for many years and has amazingly provided us with plenty of variety.

However, of late, we’ve been experimenting more. We’ve been learning to branch out, converting our beans and peas into new creations, things that have opened our menu. It’s been especially satisfying as summer has kicked in, and the heat and humidity has become overbearing, an atmosphere in which a hot plate of beans and rice often doesn’t sound all that appealing. For those interested—and if you aren’t that’s fine, no need to continue reading—I’ve compiled some of the new (and old) ideas we’ve been kicking around this year.



Hummus on Toast


Having lived in the Middle East for a while, Emma and I can be a little purist in terms of what we call hummus: Hummus is made from chickpeas/garbanzo beans, and something similar out of black beans or green peas is not hummus. Rather, it’s something else that can be delicious in its own right. But, we often make a batch of hummus: chickpeas, lemon juice, salt, garlic, tahini, and olive oil. Like pâté, hummus works wonderfully on toast, in sandwiches, or as a dip, or it can be its own thing amongst a thematic smattering of Middle Eastern sides.



Butter Bean Pâté

While the pâté most of us have grown up never to taste, that treat for the wealthy, is made from goose or duck liver, in reality pâté means “paste” and said paste can be composed of a plethora of things. We make a batch of this nearly every week, typically with either lentils or butter beans, some mushrooms and sautéed veggies, and mix of fresh herbs from the garden. From there, we spread it on toast, use as a dip, or convert it into burgers/sausages.




Lots of people rightly worry about legumes causing gas. This is because they contain carbohydrates that our bodies can’t naturally break down during digestion. Soaking beans and peas can help to greatly reduce this (and should be done anytime we use dried pulses), but sprouting them will provide even better results. What’s more is that the sprouts, like fermentation (coming up next) often increase the nutrient levels of the food, not to mention upping the fibre level while reducing the antinutrients.



Breakfast Black Beans

A tipico breakfast in Guatemala, where we lived for several years, includes a side of black beans, as well as fresh pico de gallo, eggs (tofu scramble for us), and corn tortillas. We often use black bean leftovers from burrito or taco night to make a tipico. Another Central American breakfast favourite (Costa Rica, especially) is gallo pinto, a rice and bean mixture, that we might do if we need to use some leftover rice as well. Beans at breakfast just provides an entirely different feeling, and with some fresh, aromatic herbs (see: cilantro) and some cool pico de gallo, it gets a day started right.




Tempeh for Beginners

Admittedly, Emma and I have not started making our own tempeh yet. We haven’t even started growing the soybeans necessary (though I have learned that tempeh can be made with other legumes and/or grains, too). We just haven’t quite gotten ourselves in a position for that level of production. However, we have started buying a little tempeh every couple of weeks. For those unfamiliar with tempeh, it’s an Indonesia traditional dish made from fermented soybeans. It’s been an amazing addition to stir-fries, more and more common with our veggies coming in. Tempeh, unlike tofu, has a distinct flavour and enduring firmness from the fermentation process.



Bean Burgers & Sausages

Emma and I avoid processed foods, so, despite being vegan, we’ve not been huge beneficiaries of the plant-based burger movement. Truthfully, we’ve not eaten meat in so long that the appeal of “tastes just like meat” isn’t even really a thing for us. We don’t really remember.  But, that’s not to say burgers and sausages, as dishes, aren’t fun. When a big batch of herb butterbean or lentil pâté is lingering in the fridge, I’ll often make sausages from it, adding oats until the mixture can hold its shape in my hands and a spoon of chia or ground flaxseed for some gelatinous texture. My favourite legume for burgers is black-eyed peas, again with rolled oats as the binder.



Summer Salads

Many of the dishes and recipes above tend to re-imagine pulses into new forms: burgers or tempeh or hummus. However, I think the motivation for this change is that the idea of a hot bean soup on a summer day just isn’t as alluring as it is in the winter. Something lighter, like salads, feels more the right speed. To make sure we have a protein-rich element in our salads, we like to cook up a pot of beans only to put them in the fridge and serve them cool. Beans and peas work great on salads. In fact, beans make great salads in and of themselves.


Cooking pulses has been a daily endeavor for us for years now. To make it easy, we’ve learned

  • to choose the next pulse after dinner each night (or first thing in the morning when you forget) so that we can get it soaking,
  • to rinse the soaked beans with fresh water before cooking them (helping to further eliminate bloating and gas),
  • and to use a pressure cooker as it will save a lot of time and energy.

We’ve also learned than the combination of beans and rice, a staple in so many places, provides a complete protein, with all the essential amino acids. The only legume that I’ve know of that has the all on its own is the soybean.


Jonathon Engels

The financially unfortunate combination of travel enthusiast, freelance writer, and vegan gardener, Jonathon Engels whittled and whistled himself into a life that gives him cause to continually scribble about it. He has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in the meantime, subjecting the planet to a fiery mix of permaculture, music, and plant-based cooking. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.


  1. Thanks for sharing! We have had a happy accident with beans that had been soaked overnight for a stew and were just too many to fit into the pot. I didn’t want to use a larger pot as we bring them to the boil and stuff them into a hay box/wonder basket for slow cooking. (The pot needs to be as full as possible to maintain its heat as long as possible. This way we only burn gas for a few minutes, even less than with a pressure cooker.) So the rest of the soaked beans were still there to be used, but never the right moment to process them! I kept rinsing them for a full week, hoping they wouldn’t go off, and as they were too few to fill another pot, I finally pureed them to make falafel-kind legume balls. Turns out, not only were those super delicious, but our digestive systems handled them much better than normally. – Looking forward to your article on fermentation!

  2. Protein is also in chlorophyll – the greener the better – and growing points of plants. There’s also protein stored in seeds and nuts other than legumes.
    Potato bean, Apios americana, is a legume whose tubers you harvest. It’s a climber that can be grown with runner beans, however its tubers can be found at a distance. Harvest can be anytime in winter, then stored bagged in the fridge, so easier then pulses if you have drying issues.

  3. Hmmm… you say hummus is hummus. Only made w garbanzos. I agree… having spent a lot of time in France, also pâté is pâté, IMO, only made w/animal liver. For me, something like it, made out of beans might be ‘paste’ or ‘spread’ or something else equally delicious, but not pâté….

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