Quinoa Protein Bowl

On Tuesday, when I shared my awesome new recipe for high-protein hemp hummus, Hannah made a good observation:

It sort of annoys me that so much of the media touts hummus as a high protein “food,” when it really has only 2 grams per 2 T serving, but this? This is this is the real deal.

I couldn’t agree more, Hannah – at least with respect to commercial hummus, which has two grams per serving indeed. That’s not my definition of a high protein food—I’d say that I expect a dish or meal component to have at least 8-15 grams for it to qualify as a decent protein source.

There are various schools of thought within the vegan and raw communities on how much protein we need and how best we should source it. Some vegans seem overly nervous about the “protein question,” recommending a wide array of powders, soy foods, and bars, or brown rice protein shakes consumed every few hours. Other vegans (especially in the raw community) like to tell us that everything we’ve ever learned about protein is straight up BS, and that, as long as we drink some juice and eat some leafy greens, we’re fine.

As a general rule, I think that most nutrition professionals have it right: they point to the RDA requirement of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight, and that vegans may want to aim for 0.9 grams, because vegan protein can be more difficult to assimilate. For women of standard height and weight, this means roughly 45-65 daily.

So the question becomes, what protein sources can vegans rely on that will give them all of the proteins–and varied amino acids–they need?

They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Edamame, tofu, and tempeh
  • Hemp
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Protein powders (hemp, brown rice, yellow pea)
  • Quinoa, rice, millet, oats, oat bran, and other grains
  • Nuts and seeds

You’ll want to exercise a little caution with that last category, since it’s hard to get a really good serving of protein (say, 10 grams or higher) from nuts or seeds without also eating quite a bit of fat. (To give you some context, 2 tablespoons of almond butter has 16-18 grams fat and 4-8 grams of protein; 1 oz cashews has 5 grams of protein but 12 grams of fat.) This ends up being a significant challenge for raw foodists who avoid legumes, soy, and grains altogether: nuts become one of, or the only, significant protein source, but it’s hard to derive the desired protein without also consuming what may be a disproportionate amount of fat. For that reason, I encourage even very high raw foodies to consider legumes, high quality soy, and/or grains in addition to nuts and seeds.

But enough talk. The best way to show anyone how easy it is to get a good amount of protein as a vegan is to share easy and unexpectedly high protein recipes. Take my wall of green soup for example: one serving packs in a solid 20 grams. Eating a portion of my hemp hummus with two slices of Ezekiel toast would yield almost 19 grams. And even a single cup of my hemp milk would contribute 9 grams of protein to a smoothie.

If none of those options appeal, give my new quinoa protein bowl a try. This recipe came together two weeks ago, for the same client I made my hemp hummus recipe for. As soon as I tasted it, I was thrilled, and I plan to repeat it often. It’s a quick, easy weekday dinner, and it’s remarkably nutrient rich. Just see for yourself!

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Quinoa Protein Bowl (Vegan, Gluten Free)

Yields two servings

1/2 cup quinoa, dry
1 1/4 cups water
Dash salt
1/2 cup edamame, shelled and frozen
1 cup almond milk
1/4 cup shelled hemp seeds
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 tbsp mellow white miso
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp lemon juice
Black pepper and salt to taste
6 oz. (about 3/4 cup) steamed and chopped kabocha or butternut squash
2 cups finely chopped raw kale

1) Bring 1 1/4 cups water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Rinse the quinoa in a sieve, and then add it to the boiling water. Add the frozen edamame to the water, too. Reduce to a simmer and cover loosely, until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water (about 20-25 min). Keep it in the pot over a very low flame while you prepare the sauce.

2) To make the sauce, place the almond milk, hemp, nutritional yeast, miso, mustard, turmeric, lemon, and salt and pepper in a high speed blender and blend till smooth and creamy. Add about 1/2 cup sauce to the quinoa, and stir to combine, keeping the flame on low.

3) Add the chopped kabocha and kale to the quinoa, and stir for a few minutes, until the kale wilts and everything is hot. At this point, if the quinoa isn’t as creamy as you’d like, add more sauce! If it’s perfect, then simply save the remaining sauce for another meal.

4) Top the dish with more nutritional yeast or hemp seeds, if desired, and serve!

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It goes beautifully with kale salad. But then, what doesn’t?

Hopefully this post gives you a sense of how I feel about protein, as I’m often asked to comment on it. Protein is important, and readers who are worried about meeting their protein needs on a vegan diet shouldn’t be made to feel embarrassed about their concerns. They should, however, take comfort in the fact that it’s not a tremendous challenge to get all of the protein you need on a vegan diet, just so long as you study the facts and do some meal planning. As soon as you do, you’ll get the hang of it.

And if you do find it a challenge to get the protein you need, recipes like this one should lend a helping hand. After all, one serving provides about 30 grams of plant-sourced amino acid power.

Back tomorrow with my new favorite salad recipe. Happy Sunday!


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