If you are switching to becoming, or already are, a vegetarian or a vegan it becomes a little more complex. Not difficult by any means, but you do need to put more thought into what you eat.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and there are twenty all together. Eight of the twenty are considered "essential amino acids" because we require them but our body cannot manufacture them so we must get them from our food. These eight are phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, leucine, and lysine. Animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs, contain all eight however different foods such as legumes, seeds and grains do not. Therefore they must be combined to create a complete protein. Legumes are high in lysine but low in methionine. Conversely most grains and high in methionine and low in lysine.
In many cultures there are a lot of recipes that call for a mixture of legumes and grains that then create a complete protein. The above picture is for a Korean dish called Kong bap (this picture shows the dish uncooked) and is a mixture of seven grains and four beans. Because this dish contains beans (adzuki beans and green peas) and grains (barley, rice, Job's tears, sorghum and corn) it provides all of the essential amino acids. This dish also has soybeans which are considered to be a complete protein by themselves. Other examples include black beans with corn tortillas from South America or chickpea falafel with whole wheat pita from the Middle East.
This is not the only combination that makes a complete protein. Seeds and legumes together are also a good combination. Examples would include hummus which is made from ground sesame seeds and cooked chick peas.
The idea is ensure that if you are not eating meat that you are not simply adding legumes to your diet but that you are adding them with whole grains and/or seeds to ensure good nutrition.
Our dinner tonight a curried crockpot lentil and rice dish. This recipe originally came from a Lebanese friend of mine and is called M'judra, I've modified it a little over the years and it's one of our favorites. I plan to serve this with an Indian spinach dish called Palak and a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers with a spice called Chat Masala. It's a tasty, healthy and satisfying meal. We make it with a fair amount of curry powder because that's how we like it, if you need to reduce the curry powder it will still be delicious.
Curried Crockpot Lentils and Rice
1/2 C. rinsed lentils
1 C. rinsed red rice (can use brown rice if you prefer)
1 green pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
2 T. curry powder
1 T. nutritional yeast
1/2 t. fresh ground black pepper
3 1/2 C. vegetable broth
1 T. olive oil
saute the pepper and onions in the olive oil until just starting to soften
place all dry ingredients into the crockpot
add broth and stir well
cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours (check at 4.5 hours to see if you need a little more water)
add salt to taste after done cooking
Note: you don't add the salt while cooking because it will delay the lentils from softening
photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Badagnani