Fifty words. That’s how many Dr. Seuss used to write Green Eggs and Ham, which went on to sell 8 million copies (and counting). Hard to imagine a better sale-to-word ratio than that.
The interesting part of the story, though, is that he wrote it on a challenge. A challenge to write a book using only that many words.
A great irony of creativity is that when you add constraints, you suddenly feel freed. It’s a lot easier to respond to a writing prompt than to stare at a blank page.
But what does this have to do with food?
Only that when you’re staring at a shelf full of cookbooks (not to mention an internet full of millions of free plant-based recipes), it’s hard to figure out which one meal to make tonight.
And so, like ol’ Theodore Geisel, you add a constraint. My favorite, for its health, simplicity, and tidiness, is a grain, a green, and a bean.
A Grain, A Green, and a Bean
A grain, a green, a bean (the phrase, more than the idea) is one of my greatest contributions to this world. My sincere hope is that this is noted on my tombstone when I die.
I’m not sure if there’s any controversy surrounding my claim to having invented it. Trader Joe’s made a frozen meal called Greens, Beans, and Grains, but to my knowledge this came later (and doesn’t freaking rhyme!).
(Note: if you have examples of the phrase being used prior to 2011, please keep them to yourself. I need this.)
Ownership squabbles aside, there are plenty of reasons to love a grain, a green, and a bean:
- It’s healthy and substantial. Chances are, it’s the healthiest thing you can make tonight that isn’t a salad. And with the calories and heartiness we’re looking for as athletes.
- It reminds you to eat greens. In my opinion, greens are the single healthiest type of food you can eat. But it’s so easy to not get them, and I’m as guilty of that as the next guy or gal. The beauty of “a grain, a green, a bean” is that when you’re thinking in this framework, you’ve got that extra nudge to figure out a way to work something green into the meal. (And if you can’t, you add a salad.)
- The protein thing. I don’t really think about macronutrients these days, and don’t believe you need to if you eat a plant-based diet based on whole foods. But for those who do: beans and grains do pack a good amount of protein, and together tend to create a broad amino acid profile. The “complete protein” idea is likely a fallacy — there’s no need to get all the essential amino acids in the same meal — but you do need to get them all in your diet. So when a single meal does provide a lot of them, all the better.
- It’s a vehicle for other healthy foods. Just like with a smoothie and with salads (my typical breakfast and lunch before a GGB dinner), GGB allows you to add a lot of other foods you might try to get each day. For example, you can (and should) start just about every GGB meal with a saute of onions and garlic, two foods worth eating daily. And of course, you’ll want to add lots of spices.
And of course, there’s also the aforementioned simplicity and the power of constraint. It’s just enough to focus your thinking, to imagine how the foods in your pantry and fridge might work together, without being so limiting as to dictate exactly what you’re cooking, like any single recipe does.
But… there’s a problem.
Most instances of a grain, a green, and a bean — you know, the ones with the #whatveganseat hashtag — are better described as “big bowls of sadness” (another great term, this one borrowed from No Meat Athlete Cookbook co-author Stepfanie Romine).
So that’s my goal with this post. To demonstrate just how exciting — and surprising — a grain, a green, and a bean, can be.
With that, I present to you: the many forms of GGB — one of which, on just about any given night, represents dinner in my house.
1. Stiy fry
The grain: Brown rice, usually, or rice noodles. Could be something like quinoa if you’re not that into arsenic.
The green: Bok choy or broccoli.
The bean: Tofu, tempeh, black beans, or adzuki beans.
Example: Vegetable Teriyaki Stir-Fry from Dreena Burton.
The grain: Corn or whole-wheat tortillas.
The green: Lettuce. Or better, cabbage. (I count red cabbage as a green, too.)
The bean: Crumbled tempeh or black beans.
Example: Spiced Tempeh Soft Tacos from Engine 2.
3. Soup or stew
The grain: Whole-wheat pasta, bulgur wheat, or rice.
The green: Kale or spinach.
The bean: Any. Chickpeas, white beans, kidney beans, split peas…
The grain: Brown rice. Sometimes white rice with curry is just really, really good though.
The green: Usually spinach (kale is a little too toothsome for most curries, I think).
The bean: Lentils, split peas, chickpeas, black-eyed peas.
Example: Red Lentil Curry (stir in baby spinach during the last few minutes of cooking) from Anjum Anand.
5. Beans & rice
The grain: Hmm. Maybe rice?
The green: Spinach, kale, or cabbage.
The bean: Black or pinto.
Example: Hawaiian Beans & Rice from my sister, Christine!
The grain: Whole-wheat pasta, usually.
The green: Arugula works well. Or basil, in a pesto. And sometimes I just dump a pile of steamed kale on top of pasta with red sauce.
The bean: Fava beans or cannellini beans. Or if you want to get really tricky, you can use lentil pasta (Trader Joe’s makes a great one).
7. Buddha bowl
The grain: Any.
The green: Any.
The bean: Any.
(I don’t actually know what defines a Buddha Bowl. Maybe it’s just a less clever way of saying “a grain, a green, and a bean”?)
Example: Build your own Buddha Bowl from Cookie and Kate.
8. Hummus & dippers
The grain: Whole-wheat crackers (I like Engine 2 brand).
The green: Broccoli or cabbage.
The bean: Chickpeas, usually.
Example: Really? You just dip the things in the hummus. Roots (from Asheville!) makes a great oil-free hummus you can get in most Whole Foods stores. Or you can make your own, of course. The buffalo hummus that my sister created for the first No Meat Athlete book is still one of my favorites.
9. A smoothie (!?)
The grain: Oats.
The green: Baby spinach or baby kale. (The baby varieties seem to impart the least flavor.)
The bean: Silken tofu or even white beans. Ask the vegan bodybuilders.
Example: Green Goddess Smoothie from Pickled Plum. (note: I don’t actually put tofu or beans in my smoothies. Just showing that it can be done.)
10. The classic
The grain: Up to you.
The green: Any!
The bean: Whatever you’ve got.
Example: Millet in the Pot with Adzuki Beans and Collards from Terry Walters.
The classic is the one that runs the biggest risk of becoming “the big bowl of sadness”. A good GGB dish requires a good sauce, so use the Sauce System to make one.
I hope this list helps you. More than that, I hope it demonstrates just how varied a grain, a green, and a bean can be.
But this is just my list. Surely I’ve forgotten a few typical meals that, upon examination, fit the GGB mold. What are your favorites?