Let’s get two things straight. One, pasta is one of the most perfect foods this world has to offer. Two, the idea that “white carbs are evil” is pure conspiracy theory. As such, any adulterations or renunciations of the iconic Italian product should be met with a fair bit of skepticism, if not outrage.
So, I’m not here to tell you that you should swap your classic ziti and linguini for a “healthier” substitute. I also won’t pretend that these newfangled pastas I’m about to tell you about taste just like regular pasta or can claim to be anything close to authentic.
HOWEVER. If you are down with delightfully easy ways to change up your weeknight dinner formula—and, let’s be real, are willing to expand your conception of “pasta”—then I strongly recommend you check out pasta made from beans and legumes.
It’s like pasta. But instead of being made from semolina (durum wheat flour), like most pasta, it’s made out of flour ground from stuff like dried chickpeas, red lentils, green lentils, and green peas. (Fun fact: From 1967 to 1988, Italy actually had a “pasta purity” law banning the import of pastas made from any variety of wheat but durum…. so I can only imagine the side-eye with which traditional nonnas might view “pasta” made with beans and legumes.)
This brilliant invention is my go-to for a ridiculously simple, filling, nutritious, delicious dinner. Let me convince you to give it a whirl. Or a twirl. Of the spaghetti on your fork. That is made from beans and legumes.
It has all the convenience perks of regular pasta.
Like regular pasta, pasta made from beans and legumes is perfect for those nights when the thought of spending more than 10 minutes in the kitchen seems daunting. All you need to muster up is the culinary skill to boil a pot of water and the will to open a jar of sauce.
Speaking of which, this stuff is just as versatile and hard-to-mess-up as regular pasta. You cook it and dump whatever kind of sauce and/or toppings you love on it—tomato sauce, parmesan, pesto—and voila, dinner is served. (You usually cook it about as long as regular pasta, sometimes a couple minutes less—just read the package.)
I have exactly two pro tips for cooking this stuff—you might want to grab a pen, this is kind of complicated. 1) Add a glug of olive oil after the pasta and stir a couple times while cooking to avoid foaminess, and 2) Do NOT over cook, unless you want inedible globs of noodles.
It has tons of plant protein.
Bean and legume pasta is the ideal base for a meat-free dinner that sticks to your ribs.
While the protein content varies depending on the type of bean/lentil and the brand, it’s not unusual to get nearly twice as much protein per serving than you’d get in the same size serving of regular pasta. For instance, a 2 oz serving of classic Barilla penne—which, it must be pointed out, is a laughably small portion—has 7 g protein, while a 2 oz serving of the brand’s red lentil penne has 13 g. Same amount of effort, double the protein.
As a longtime vegetarian, I can attest to the fact that this stuff absolutely kills it in the protein and satiety department. Of course, you don’t need to be veg to enjoy the extra protein—pair this pasta with meat for a total protein bonanza.
It makes eating beans 100x more fun.
Beans have a very particular texture—you might describe it as mushy or bleh-y—and it’s not appealing to everyone. Or, maybe as someone who already eats beans a lot, you’re just finding them kind of bland and tiresome.
Either way, I’m pleased to inform you that beans in pasta form are much more exciting to eat—and, IMHO, much more delectable than your average bean dish.
In fact, most varieties taste remarkably little like beans and legumes. I find chickpea pastas to be the tastiest and the best “dupe” for the real thing, while some of the lentil varieties tend to be a little earthier—but nothing that a slathering of sauce won’t neutralize.
When it comes to texture, it depends on the brand and cooking time, but it’s generally reminiscent of pasta al dente—pleasantly firm and chewy. (I actually much prefer it to whole wheat pasta, which can sometimes be a little grainy.) And again, do not overcook, unless you are trying to achieve that bean mush texture, in which case you should just eat a can of beans after all.
It’s also packed with fiber.
Fiber is wonderful for everything from digestion and pooping to regulating the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream, as SELF has previously reported. So if you’re down with any of these health benefits, you’ll appreciate that pasta made from beans and legumes typically has two to three times more fiber as classic pasta. For instance, Barilla’s classic rotini has 3 g fiber per 2 oz serving, while a 2 oz serving of their chickpea rotini has 8 g.
Since fiber can help slow down the body’s uptake of carbs, extra-fibery carbs can be especially great for people with diabetes or prediabetes who are interested in foods that can help keep their blood sugar levels a little more steady. I’m type 1, and have personally found that bean and legume pasta doesn’t spike my blood sugar, which makes me feel awesome—but everyone’s body is a little different.
If you want to give it a try…
So, I’d say the one big drawback of this unique pasta is the price. This stuff is not the standard $ 1.99 you typically pay for a box of pasta.
What I do is stock up whenever I see it on sale at the grocery store, or buy it in bulk online. (Which, trust me, you’re going to want to do.) It often comes out to something like $ 2.50 to $ 4 a box. Here are a few of my favorite varieties. Happy nomming!
- Barilla Chickpea Rotini, $ 10 for a pack of six, Amazon
- Tolerant Red Lentil Penne, $ 24 for a pack of six, Amazon
- Ancient Harvest POW Green Lentil and Quinoa Spaghetti, $ 23 for a pack of six, Amazon
- Banza Chickpea Cavatappi, $ 22 for a pack of six, Amazon
- Barilla Red Lentil Pasta Rotini & Penne, $ 10 for a pack of four, Amazon
- Felicia Organic Green Pea Rotini, $ 22 for a pack of six, Amazon
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