Exotic legumes. Tamarindis, azuki, caiani: how to cook them

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Robert Maurer
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Lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas are healthy and good legumes. But today new varieties of legumes are starting to appear on the shelves of supermarkets and health food stores: tamarindi, azuki, caiani, ever tried? 

They have oriental, African and South American origins: until recently they were little known varieties of legumes, although they had (and have) interesting nutritional virtues, which make them similar to a natural supplement.

«They are low in fat, zero cholesterol and they are a concentrate of fibers, proteins and minerals precious for health », explains Nicoletta Bocchino, a nutritional biologist in Brindisi, who helps us to get to know them.




  • Tamarindi


Benefit. To wake up the sluggish intestine

Also known as Indian dates, tamarinds are native to Asia, but also to Africa and South America.

"They are particularly rich in fiber, both soluble and insoluble," explains Dr. Nicoletta Bocchino. «The former slow down the absorption of sugars and fats and make you feel fuller for longer. Thanks to their prebiotic action, they nourish the good bacteria that populate the microbiota, helping to keep the intestine in balance and healthy. Insoluble fibers, on the other hand, favor the regular functioning of the intestine ».

The pairing ok. The pulp of tamarinds is an excellent hunger-breaker to be enjoyed in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon; or even for breakfast, instead of dried fruit. "To enhance its beneficial effects, combine it with probiotic foods, such as yogurt and kefir, which stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the intestinal flora", advises the expert.

A recipe with tamarinds to try

(for 1 person)


In a bowl, mix 1 cup of kefir with 30 g of whole grain oat flakes. Combine grated coconut, black chocolate flakes, a few nuts and the pulp of 3 tamarinds.



  • Azuki


Benefit. To combat aging

Also called "red soy", azuki come from Asia, especially Japan, and have a very sweet taste reminiscent of chestnuts.

“Compared to other varieties, they are rich in flavonoids, antioxidants that support the immune system. Specifically, they supply anthocyanins that counteract free radicals, responsible for cellular aging, and protect the body from damage caused by oxidative stress », explains Dr. Nicoletta Bocchino.

«They also have a good anti-inflammatory action on the cardiovascular and vasoprotective system, enhanced by the presence of minerals allied to the circulation. Among these, potassium and magnesium stand out, essential for keeping the walls of blood vessels elastic and guaranteeing the health of the heart and arteries. They also contain phytoestrogens, substances similar to female hormones, which promote hormonal balance and help reduce the typical menopausal disorders ».


The pairing ok. "Eat azuki together with foods rich in antioxidants, such as cooked tomato (which contains lycopene) and extra virgin olive oil (which provides polyphenols): together they help reduce the level of" bad "cholesterol in the blood Ldl and to increase those of HDL good cholesterol », suggests Dr. Bocchino.


A recipe with azuki beans to try

(For 4 people)

Brown 1 diced tomato with 1 drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, 1 red onion and thinly sliced ​​celery. Add 100 g of dried azuki beans (after soaking them overnight), fill the pot with water and cook for half an hour. Meanwhile, boil 240 g of wholemeal pasta in another pan. Drain it al dente, add it to the beans and finally sprinkle with black pepper.



  • Caiani


Benefit. To overcome fatigue


Also known as "peas of the Tropic", the Caiani are originally from Latin America, in particular from Argentina. They are perfect for those who exercise or are subjected to frenetic rhythms.

«Thanks to the presence of a great variety of minerals, they counteract the feeling of tiredness. In particular, they are a source of phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and iron, useful for dealing with psychophysical stress with an extra gear », explains Doctor Bocchino.

«They also boast B vitamins, such as niacin, which are valuable for gaining energy and fighting fatigue. Finally, they contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid precursor of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps you feel more vital and snappy ».



The pairing ok. Offer them together with whole grains. "This way you get meat-like proteins, complete with all the amino acids essential for muscle health and for maintaining lean mass," concludes the expert.

A recipe with caiani to try

(For 4 people)

Brown 50 g of shallots and 50 g of chopped carrots in a pan with 1 drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add 100 g of caiani, cover them with water and let them cook for half an hour. Add 240 g of spelled and when cooked, before serving, season with salt and pepper.




There are also legumes with flakes


Similar in appearance to cereal flakes, i flakes of legumes (peas, chickpeas, lentils and even azuki) are obtained through
a special steam pre-cooking process.

The advantages? They bring a lot of fiber and proteins that give satiety. And they are super versatile. They can be eaten as a snack instead of seeds and nuts, but are also ideal for preparing soups, soups and pasta dishes. Compared to dry ones they do not require soaking and cook in a few minutes, while compared to canned ones they are free of added sugars and additives.




The recipe book on legumes

Not just soups, soups and first courses. Legumes are also excellent for preparing delicious main courses. In the volume Legumes by nature (Lumen ed., € 19,90), written by Giacomo Pisanu, Davide Maria Pirovano, Marco Fraschini and Elena Soldi, you will find many ideas and recipes to bring to the table.



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