Legumes over easy

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Cut your cholesterol 60 points in 3 weeks with this quick-cooking food

Lentils were King Tut's favorite food. Well, probably not. But they could have been. These little legumes are among the world's oldest domesticated crops, dating back a good 10,000 years. The same goes for their cousins the split peas. Regardless of how much ancient Egyptian royalty actually relished them, these foods (which belong to the legume family, along with beans) deserve a princely place in your diet.

We've known for some time now that beans, lentils and peas are much more than "poor-man's meat." They're rich in protein and hunger-appeasing complex carbohydrates. What's more, they're low in fat and sodium and have no cholesterol. Better still, they can help you lower your cholesterol. Studies done by Prevention editorial advisor James W. Anderson, M.D., professor of medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, have borne this out.

Legumes contain lots of soluble fiber. And it's this fiber that has such cholesterol-pounding potential, according to Dr. Anderson.

In one study, Dr. Anderson gave people with dangerously high cholesterol levels (about 260) 11/2 cups of cooked beans a day for three weeks. The results of the study were dramatic: Total cholesterol fell an average of 60 points. This wassimilar to the effect of oat bran,which also caused large decreases,says Dr. Anderson.

Naturally, your results on a legume-intensive diet could vary, depending on lots of individual factors, such as your current cholesterol level. "People with readings over 250 show better results than those with levels in the low 200s," says Dr. Anderson. Still, there's little reason not to make legumes a prominent part of your diet.
BEAN POWER IN A FLASH

Well, one reason might be that you may think that they take too long to prepare. Indeed, dried beans do require a lot of prep time. First you need to soak them for several hours, then you need to cook them for a few more. All of which brings us back to lentils and split peas. These legumes require no soaking whatsoever, so you don't have to plan ahead. And they cook up in a mere fraction of the time other dried beans demand. Further, says Dr. Anderson, "although split peas and lentils are a little lower in fiber than the beans we used in our study, they should still have a good cholesterol-lowering effect."

Lentils come in shades of green, brown and reddish-orange. Split peas are available in green and yellow. That means you've got plenty of versatility--and all your meals won't look alike. To use these legumes, simply pour them into a bowl and rinse with cold water. Pick out any dark or discolored pieces, then drain in a colander. Cook split peas and lentils in water or stock until just the right texture for your recipe. Here are some guidelines from the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council: For al dente split peas to toss with pasta or to use in salads, 20 to 25 minutes will do it. For soups or purees, increase the time to 30 to 45 minutes. Green and brown lentils take about 15 to 20 minutes on the stove. And orange ones cook even faster, being ready in 5 to 10 minutes.

If the only way you've ever eaten split peas and lentils is in a thick, ham-bone-flavored soup, you'll be pleased to know there are lots of other wonderful uses for these legumes. They're terrific in salads, casseroles, dips, pilafs, stuffings and more. To help you make split peas and lentils a regular part of your diet, we asked talented cookbook author Marie Simmons to create a half-dozen easy, tempting recipes for you to try.

Among them is Lentil and Chicory Vinaigrette, a hearty, warm salad that can be on the table in about 25 minutes. Rice and Lentil Patties are a meaty alternative to burgers, with considerably less fat. Yellow Split-Pea Dip is an easy dish that can be prepared ahead and served as a party appetizer or even a snack. (Serve it with pita or lots of crisp vegetables.) For a different spin on split-pea soup, try Marie's Split-Pea and Spinach Soup, which can also be made ahead and reheated in a few minutes.And for a deliciously differentcombo, there's Pasta With Split Peasin Spicy Tomato Sauce.

So do something nice for your cholesterol. Invite lentils and split peas for dinner--often!
*** LENTIL AND CHICORY VINAIGRETTE

Per serving: 327 calories, 8.4 grams fat (23% of calories), 10.6 g. dietary fiber, 22.5 g. protein, 44.3 g. carbohydrates, 6 milligrams cholesterol, 152 mg. sodium. Also a very good source of folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, iron. Serves 4.

2 qt. water
1 1/3 cups green lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs celery leaves
1 carrot
2 onions
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 oz. smoked turkey breast, cut into 1 x 1/4-in. slivers
1 lb. chicory, trimmed and cut into 11/2-in. pieces
1/4 cup defatted chicken stock
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

1. In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the water, lentils, bay leaf, celery leaves, carrot, 1 onion and 1 clove garlic. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Drain. Return the lentils to the pan; discard the bay leaf, celery, onion and garlic. Thinly slice the carrot, add to the pan and set aside off heat.
2. Meanwhile, in a large no-stick frying pan over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the oil. Thinly slice the remaining onion and add to the pan. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until golden.
3. Thinly slice the remaining 2 cloves garlic. Add to the pan. Stir in the turkey breast; saute for 2 minutes. Add the chicory, reserved lentil mixture and the stock.
4. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until the greens are soft and tender. (If the mixture becomes too dry, add a little additional stock or some water.) Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
5. Drizzle with the vinegar, pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Toss well to combine.

*** YELLOW SPLIT-PEA DIP

Per serving: 117 calories, 3.3 g. fat (25% of calories), 2.1 g. dietary fiber, 6.3 g. protein, 16.7 g. carbohydrates, no cholesterol, 9 mg. sodium. Serves 8.

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onions
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 cup yellow split peas, sorted and rinsed
4 cups water or defatted chicken stock (or a mixture)
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
2 tbsp. finely chopped red onions
* pinch of ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. dried oregano

1. In a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, saute the yellow onions, ginger and half of the garlic in 1 teaspoon of the oil for 3 minutes, or until the onions are tender. Stir in the curry powder, cumin and turmeric.
2. Add the split peas and water or stock. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 11/4 hours, or until the split peas are very soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Drain off any remaining liquid.
3. Transfer to a large bowl and chill for several hours or overnight. Spoon the mixture (it will be very stiff) into a food processor. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the remaining oil, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and the lemon rind. Process until smooth, creamy and light in color.
4. Transfer the mixture to a shallow serving bowl or a plate. Spread evenly in the dish. Sprinkle with the red onions and pepper.
5. In a cup, whisk together the remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons oil and the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Add the oregano and remaining garlic; mix well. Just before serving, drizzle over the dip.

*** LENTILS WITH CURRIED VEGETABLES

Per serving: 353 calories, 6.2 g. fat (16% of calories), 8.1 g. dietary fiber, 20.7 g. protein, 57.4 g. carbohydrates, 4 mg. cholesterol, 122 mg. sodium. Also a very good source of folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, iron. Serves 4.

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, quartered
1/2 cup diagonally sliced carrots
1/2 cup diagonally sliced celery
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. turmeric
2 cups defatted chicken stock
1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 thin slice fresh ginger
1 bay leaf
1 cardamom pod
1 cup chopped green beans (1/2-in. pieces)
1/2 cup peas
1 cup low-fat yogurt, at room temperature
2 tbsp. fresh coriander leaves (optional)
2 tbsp. chopped unsalted peanuts or cashews (optional)

1. In a large no-stick frying pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onions, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until golden. Add the chopped garlic and cook for 3 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the curry powder, cumin and turmeric. Add the stock, lentils, sweet potato, ginger, bay leaf and cardamom. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
3. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are almost tender. (If the mixture becomes too dry, add a little additional stock or some water.)
4. Add the green beans; cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peas; cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; discard the bay leaf and cardamom. Allow the mixture to cool for approximately 5 minutes.
5. Place the yogurt in a large serving bowl. Gradually stir in the warm vegetable mixture. Garnish with the coriander and peanuts.

*** PASTA WITH SPLIT PEAS IN SPICY TOMATO SAUCE

Per serving: 395 calories, 9.3 g. fat (21% of calories), 4.2 g. dietary fiber, 16 g. protein, 63.6 g. carbohydrates, 2 mg. cholesterol, 392 mg. sodium. Also a very good source of niacin, thiamine, folate, vitamin C. Serves 4.

3 cups water
1/2 cup green split peas, sorted and rinsed
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. red-pepper flakes
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 can (28 oz.) plum tomatoes with juice
1 bay leaf
2 cups macaroni or ditalini
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a 2-quart saucepan over high heat, bring water to a boil. Add split peas. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/4 hours, or until peas are tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
2. In a large no-stick frying pan over medium-low heat, cook the garlic and pepper flakes in the oil until the garlic starts to sizzle. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes; do not brown the garlic.
3. Stir in the tomatoes and bay leaf. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sauce is somewhat reduced and thickened.
4. Meanwhile, cook the macaroni or ditalini in a large pot of boiling water until just tender. Before draining, ladle out 1/2 cup of the water and reserve it. Drain the pasta and place in a large serving bowl. Add the tomato mixture, reserved split peas and enough of the pasta water to moisten the mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan.

*** SPLIT-PEA AND SPINACH SOUP WITH GARLIC YOGURT

Per serving: 245 calories, 4.5 g. fat (17% of calories), 5.1 g. dietary fiber, 15.1 g. protein, 38.2 g. carbohydrates, 2 mg. cholesterol, 103 mg. sodium. Also a very good source of folate, vitamin A. Serves 8.

2 cups chopped onions
1 cup diced carrots
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups green split peas, sorted and rinsed
9 cups water or defatted chicken stock (or a mixture)
1 box (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed but not drained
1 tbsp. lemon juice
* dash of hot-pepper sauce
1 cup low-fat yogurt
1 lg. clove garlic, minced

1. In a Dutch oven or 4-quart saucepan, combine the onions, carrots, chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until the vegetables begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes, or until the onions turn golden.
2. Add the split peas and water or chicken stock. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan and cook for 1 hour.
3. Stir in the frozen, chopped spinach. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the split peas are tender and the soup is very thick. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and hot-pepper sauce.
4. Transfer about 1/3 of the soup to a blender and process until smooth. Pour back into the pan.
5. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, minced garlic and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil.
6. Serve the soup topped with dollops of the garlic yogurt.

*** RICE AND LENTIL PATTIES WITH CURRIED TOMATO SAUCE

Per serving: 199 calories, 5.4 g. fat (24% of calories), 3.8 g. dietary fiber, 8 g. protein, 31.2 g. carbohydrates, no cholesterol, 212 mg. sodium. Also a very good source of folate. Serves 4.
CURRIED TOMATO SAUCE

1 tsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. finely chopped onions
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
* pinch of ground red pepper
1 can (14 oz.) whole tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh coriander

RICE AND LENTIL PATTIES

1 cup cooked medium- or short-grain white rice, at room
temperature (see Note)
1 cup cooked green lentils, at room temperature (see Note)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 tbsp. finely chopped hot green chili peppers (wear plastic
gloves when handling)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 egg white, beaten until frothy

1. To make the curried tomato sauce: In a large no-stick frying pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Add the curry powder, cumin and red pepper; stir for 1 minute.
2. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often and breaking up the tomatoes with the side of a spoon, until the mixture is reduced by half. Transfer to a 1-quart saucepan and keep warm over low heat. (Or refrigerate until needed; reheat before serving.) Stir in the coriander just before serving.
3. To make the rice and lentil patties:In a large bowl, mix the rice and lentils. Set aside.
4. In a large no-stick frying pan over medium-low heat, warm 2 teaspoons of the oil. Add the chopped onions and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until the onions brown. Add the chili peppers, minced garlic and cumin. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add to the lentil mixture. Add the egg white and mix well.
5. Wet your hands with cold water and form about 1/4 cup of the mixture into a firm patty about 21/2 inches in diameter. Place on a tray lined with wax paper. Repeat with the remaining mixture to make 8 patties.
6. Wipe out the frying pan. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and warm over medium heat. Working in batches, if necessary, brown the patties on both sides (about 5 minutes per side). Serve with the tomato sauce.

Note: To get 1 cup of cooked rice, start with 11/4 cups boiling water and 1/3 cup white rice. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until rice is tender and all liquid has been absorbed; cool to room temperature. To get 1 cup cooked lentils, start with 1 quart water and 1/3 cup lentils. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender; drain and cool to room temperature.

PREVENTION CUISINE offers today's healthiest recipes--low in cholesterol and sodium, and packed with fiber and good nutrition. Best of all, each contains less than 25 percent of calories from fat. Good news if you're concerned about heart disease, cancer or your weight! So eat up. Here's healthy fare that's simple to prepare and definitely worth savoring.

PHOTO: Heart-helper: With a whopping 10 grams of fiber, this warm lentil-and-chicory salad satisfies a hearty appetite and your heart!

PHOTO: No-guilt dip: Cooked and pureed yellow split peas offer a delicious (and cholesterol-lowering) alternative to cream-laden dips.

PHOTO: Cholesterol-pounding potential: Lentils With Curried Vegetables delivers 8 grams of fiber with just 16 percent of calories from fat.

PHOTOS (10): Various types of peas and beans.

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By Jean Rogers

With Teresa A. Yeykal and Prevention Magazine Food Center

Photographs by JERRY SIMPSON

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