Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Filo topped Lentil and spinach pie and the protein question

The rest of the family were having roast lamb infused with garlic and rosemary, mmmm, but I needed something quick to serve up alongside the veg for veggie daughter. One thing that nags away at me about a vegetarian diet is whether she is getting enough protein, and whether it's the right sort of protein to ensure that her teenage body gets what needs to grow and develop properly, particularly now that she has taken up rowing. A quick delve into the back of my mind makes me think that the type of protein in meat is difficult to find in vegetarian food but that's about as far as my knowledge stretches. I need to do a bit more research to fill in the gaps, so it's off to the internet. Or if you want to jump straight to the recipe, feel free to skip over the next two paragraphs.

The Protein Question

I started with a BBC iWonder guide entitled Should you worry about how much protein you eat? This quotes a figure of 0.75 g protein per kilogram of body weight as the amount we are recommended to consume (I'm not sure who is doing the recommending). So a person weighing 60kg would need to eat 45g protein per day, which apparently is around two palm sized portions of meat, fish, pulses, nuts or tofu. Most westerners eat considerably more, which I learn could be a whole other problem in itself. Addressing my concern about extra protein needed for increased exercise levels, this web page recommends chocolate milk as the ideal post-exercise drink, which will go down a treat with veggie daughter when she emerges from the mists of the Great Ouse after a strenuous rowing session.

Then I stumbled upon the website of Viva! Health,  'registered charity....set up to monitor and to explain the increasing amount of scientific research linking diet to health'. Their fact sheet The Protein Myth was very useful. To summarise, there are around 20 amino acids that build the protein we need to build and repair muscle. Our bodies can make some of them, but there are nine 'essential' amino acids that we can only get from our diet. Meat and soya products (and also, as I read later, quinoa) are classed as complete proteins, because they contain all these essential amino acids. Other forms of protein are classed as incomplete because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. According to the fact sheet it is difficult to be protein deficient on a western diet, even if it is vegetarian. If you eat a balanced diet with sufficient calorie intake, you are likely to get the mix of proteins you need to supply the amino acids. So I think I can silence that nagging voice in my head that keeps telling me that veggie daughter needs more protein.

And that leads me back to the recipe, which uses red lentils and cashews as the protein. The dish provided around 12g protein from the lentils and 9g from the nuts as well as around 6g in the spinach.

Filo topped lentil and spinach pie

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp harissa paste (or to taste, depending how much spice you like)
200g red lentils
400ml veg stock 
250g frozen spinach
50g cashews
chopped fresh herbs, depending on what you have, I used basil
3 sheets frozen filo pastry (thawed)
olive oil

1. Fry onions, spices, garlic for a few minutes until the onions are softened.

2. Add the lentils and stock and cook for 15 minutes (you probably don't need to add salt unless your stock is unsalted)

3. Add the frozen spinach and stir around until the spinach wilts, then stir in the nuts and fresh herbs.

4. Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish.

5. Brush the filo sheets with oil, scrunch them up and arrange on top of the lentil mixture. Bake at 190C for about 20 minutes, or until the filo is lightly golden.

I served it with buttered cabbage, roasted sweet potato and brussels sprouts and roast potatoes.

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