A simple, frugal, hearty, satisfying, nourishing and comforting Iraqi soup. It fills me with nostalgia not only because its as popular as lentil soup in Iraq, but because there’s something familiar about it’s creaminess and my mother’s addition of a luscious green leaf that makes it all the perfect comfy bowl to behold on cold day. It is more popular in southern Iraq (as far as I know), as I’ve seen some families cook it almost every day.
Pulses and beans consumption have always been popular in vegetarian communities, but recently their health benefits as well as their significant protein content in combating protein energy malnutrition and offering a cheap source of food security to many countries around the world, has been of particular interest. Combined with other grains they offer a complete source of protein which our bodies require . Pulses not only provide a good source of energy, they also contain plenty of dietary fibre, a good percentage of protein, and many minerals and vitamins required for human health (1). Mung beans in particular have a protein content 25.04% per 100g uncooked version (2). Follow this link for a much more detailed and comprehensive explanation of plant proteins, by Lauren Glucina (3).
The problem with beans is their known bloating effect (a very frequent complaint in Iraq). The bacteria in our gut feed on the long chain starch molecules present in beans (known as oliccosachrides) and in effect produce the commonly undesirable gases by naturally fermenting them. It is believed that soaking beans and pulses overnight in an acidic medium (lemon/lime juice, vinegar) reduces oliccosachrides. Furthermore, soaking in an grain/pulses in acid overnight is also believed to reduce the anti-nutrient known as phytic acid, which inhibits the bioavailability of nutrient absorption, iron in particular. Phytic acid is a natural protective substance found in grains, pulses and beans’ outer shells.
For example Mexicans always soaked their corn/maize (staple diet) in lime juice, whereas other countries with the same staple diet, and without the practice of ‘preparing’ maize, suffered from more malnutrition symptoms. (This was learnt in a lecture, therefore cannot source the reference). Traditionally a slow, gentle and a long simmer, adding cumin and garlic, is what is usually done, to reduce bloatedness. Sipping cardamom, mint or sage tea is something that is also believed to help after a meal.
As much as I love nutrition, digesting the nutrient content of foods seems so… let’s say robotic at times. None of this new nutritional science was known back when the first cities were formed, yet somehow our ancestors knew how to treat food with gentle care, and patience. Lots and lots of patience…
Mung bean and swiss chard soup – Feeds 4-6
This recipe is not complex, yet some swear rice needs to be added to make it creamy, others prefer the addition of vermicelli noodles. You just need to remember to soak the beans overnight. Traditionally green leaves or herbs are not added to this soup, but like my mother, I believe adding something ‘green’ to any soup makes it so much fresher, don’t you think? The addition of lemon zest is my subtle way of adding a more gentle and fragrant freshness to the soup that nothing else can beat. I have tried adding dried lime powder but found it too harsh.
(Note since this is like a family recipe, cup measurements are used as estimates and not exact weight measurements of ingredients).
- 1 1/2 cups whole mung beans, soaked in plenty of water overnight with a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar
- 1/2 cup short grain rice, soaked for 30 minutes (I used Iraqi anbar rice)
- 500-750 ml of your favourite stock (vegetable or bone broth)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/2 scant teaspoon cumin powder
- salt and pepper
- 8 bunches of swiss chard, finely chopped (in season now) – can use spinach or other winter greens
- 1-2 tablespoons of available fresh herbs such as dill, parsley or coriander, finely chopped
- 2-4 tablespoons oil of your choice (ghee, olive oil, sunflower oil and even coconut are good options)
- 1 large onion, or 2 small ones, finely chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed (optional but delicious and believed to reduce bloating)
- 1 teaspoon dried mint (optional)
- zest and juice of 1 lemon or lime (avoid zest if they are bitter)
Drain mung beans and rinse thoroughly in clean water. Place mung beans in a large pot and cover with enough water, about 4-5 cm over. Bring to a rapid boil over a high heat, skim the foam. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every now and then, until almost cooked.
Meanwhile in another pot, heat oil, add onions and sauté for about 10 minutes stirring frequently on a medium heat. You want the onions to be slightly brown and caramelised. Add garlic (if using) and cook for a further minute or two. Add dried mint if using and turn off the heat. Set aside.
Add the rice, stock, turmeric and cumin powder, salt and pepper to the mung beans, cover, and simmer gently for a further 20 minutes. The soup should look homogenous and creamy now, but if you feel it’s too thick add more water to your desired likeness. Add swiss chard and herb (if using) and cook for a further 15 minutes.
When ready to serve add the zest and juice of 1 lemon and the fried onion mixture, leaving a bit of onions for decoration. Simmer gently for a further 2-3 minutes so all the flavours infuse.
Serve hot with the optional addition of yoghurt or more herbs.
1. Boye, J., Zare, F., Pletch, A. (2010). Pulse proteins: Processing, characterization, functional properties and applications in food and feed. Food Research International 43 414–431.
2. Abd El-Moniem, G. M. A. (1999). Sensory evaluation and in vitro protein digestibility of mung bean as affected by cooking time. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 79, 2025–2028.
3. https://ascensionkitchen.com/protein-plant-based-diet/ (accessed 17 Nov 16).