“Nutrient dense” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in plant based eating circles, but some recipes seem to embody it more than others. This red quinoa, pumpkinseed, and tahini salad is a great example.
Have you see the “ANDI” ratings at Whole Foods? Nutrient density is key to that system, but in that particular context the ratio between nutrients and calories is taken into account, too. It’s similar to what Brendan Brazier talks about when he describes foods as having a high “net gain”—that is, a lot of nutrition without a lot of caloric expenditure.
Brendan is speaking in the context of a food landscape in which a lot of what we eat is calorie dense and nutrient poor, so the emphasis on caloric expenditure as a negative thing makes sense. I tend to keep calories out of my own definition of nutrient density. To me, a food can be plenty nutrient dense while also having plentiful calories; what interests me is how nourishing those calories are.
Often, when I hear people talking about nutrient density, it seems that they’re talking primarily about micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants). I agree totally, but into the category of “nutrient dense” I also welcome grains, legumes, high quality soy foods, nuts, and seeds—in other words, foods that provide ample macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) as well. I love that we in the plant based community put a lot of emphasis on the beauty and importance of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, but I think it’s also important for us to talk about how important adequate macronutrients are.
Thankfully, so many plant foods offer us vitamins and minerals, along with certain potent phytonutrients that can’t be found in animal proteins, and plenty of healthy sources of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, too. Take beans, for instance: not only a source of complex carbs and protein, but also packed with calcium, iron, and numerous vitamins. Or avocado: both brimming with healthy fat, and rich in fiber, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Folate, Vitamin B5, and potassium. Talk about nutrient density!
The following grain, seed, and legume salad embodies plant-based nutrient density at its finest. By “finest,” I mean not only that it’s incredibly rich in fat, protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, but also that it’s quick, easy, and (of course) tasty. It came to me on a whim, simply because I’d just gotten back from traveling and had to throw together dinner with nothing but what was in my pantry. As usual, I had canned legumes, pumpkin seeds, tahini, toasted sesame oil, and quinoa. As it turns out, that’s all it takes to make a hearty, satisfying meal. Well, that, and some greens, of course: salad is what makes every meal in my home feel complete!
- 1 cup red quinoa, dry
- 1½ cups cooked navy beans or chickpeas (1 can beans, drained and rinsed)
- ⅓ cup raw pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup raw tahini
- ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
- ¼ cup water
- 1 small clove garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced or grated
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- Rinse the quinoa through a fine sieve. Add the quinoa and 2 cups water to a medium sized saucepan. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the quinoa from heat, fluff gently with a fork, and re-cover. Allow it to steam for 5 minutes.
- Whisk together the tahini, salt, lemon juice, water, garlic, ginger, and toasted sesame oil.
- Mix the quinoa, beans, and pumpkin seeds together in a large mixing bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients. Mix well and serve.
Nutrients hanging out in this salad, in no particular order:
- Complete Protein
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
And that’s not even all of what this salad offers. But it is proof of how nutritionally complete, rich, and nourishing the dish is. Serve this one with fresh greens, some roasted veggies, and a slice of avocado toast for a simple and delicious dinner.
I’ll see you back here tomorrow. And before I go, a quick note to thank you for a fantastic discussion yesterday! I’ve been meaning to write about supplementation and veganism for a long time, and I’m so happy that it seems to have been on other people’s minds, too. I was especially moved by how many of us seem to feel that a supplement now and then is a tiny price to pay in exchange for doing something big to prevent unnecessary suffering.