There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about probiotic and prebiotic foods and the immense benefits they offer not just to our physical but also to our emotional health. Your intestines, like the rest of your body, are teeming with bacteria, trillions of them, helping you digest what you eat. Scientists have discovered that so powerful is the effect of your gut microbiome, as this ecosystem is called, on your overall health, that it can affect how you feel, how you look, and even how you think.
The good news is, we can influence our gut microbiomes to a healthier state by eating less processed foods and more probiotic foods like tempeh, miso, kimchi and sauerkraut– foods that are already popular with vegans. To help those bacteria thrive, you also need to eat prebiotic foods — foods that are rich in a certain kind of fiber — like bananas, greens, leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, and legumes.
The traditional Indian vegetarian diet tends to be very gut-friendly. Dosas and idlis, for instance, are made with fermented batter teeming with healthy bacteria, as are other traditional favorites like dhokla and kanji. The Indian pickle, looked down upon by the diet-conscious, is getting a boost as a great source of probiotic bacteria (I have a batch of lime pickle fermenting on the window sill right now). And sprouts, long an integral part of the Indian kitchen, rank high for their prebiotic potential like all legumes. Even better, they release nutrients within the legume, making it easier for the body — and for that bacteria — to digest and assimilate them.
I love cooking with sprouts, and I’ve shared with you a number of sprouted bean recipes in the past, including this simple Mung Bean Salad, a Sprouted Mung Dosa, and even a Sprouted Bean Burger. Today’s recipe is an old favorite that I’ve been eating since I was a little girl. It’s a big favorite in our home, even with Jay who will eat it by the bowlful, and in Marathi it’s called usal (sundal in Tamil).
Usal is fantastic with a chapati, but you could make it a little saucier and eat it with rice.
I used matki or moth beans, which are traditional for this dish but may be unfamiliar to some of my U.S. readers. They are easily available online or at Indian groceries. They look like tiny brown mung beans, and have a rather nutty, delicious flavor that lends itself perfectly to lightly spiced curries like this one. You could use mung beans or really any old bean, if you’d rather, but if you use chickpeas or any of the larger beans, you will have to cook them first before adding them to the recipe.
This is a curry that’ll no doubt make your gut happy: there are onions and garlic and, of course, the beans here, providing you with plenty of fiber for the good bacteria. Eat this with some rice and some Indian pickle for a meal that’ll leave you — and your belly — happier and healthier.
- 1 cup dry matki or mung beans soaked and sprouted. In summer, you should see sprouts appear on the second day. Read this post for a primer on sprouting., moth
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes finely diced
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1- inch knob of ginger sliced
- 1-2 green chili peppers like serrano chopped roughly
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper optional
- 1/4 cup coriander leaves chopped
- 1/2 cup grated coconut can substitute with 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp asafetida (hing optional)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan or wok
- Add the mustard seeds and, when they crackle, add the asafetida, if using, then add the onions, turmeric, cayenne, if using, coriander powder, and coriander leaves.
- Saute for a few minutes until onions start to just brown.
- Add the tomatoes and garam masala. Let the tomatoes release most of their liquid.
- Add the uncooked, sprouted beans (precook the beans only if you use a larger bean like a chickpea or a kidney bean). Add the coconut and stir well.
- Add 1 cup of water, bring to a boil, cover and let the curry cook about 30 minutes or until the beans are cooked. If you want more sauce, add more water.
- Add the lemon juice.
- Add salt to taste. Garnish with more coriander if you wish.
- Serve hot with chapatis or rice.