I have a soft spot in my culinary heart for all manner of legumes — be it beans or pulses, these plant-protein powerhouses are a staple in my kitchen. It’s been a while since I’ve experimented with a new variety though, so when I was handed a bag of dried sweet lupins the other day, I jumped at the chance to play around. Initial impressions are promising, and I discovered some surprising facts while researching these loopy friends.

To start off, this post is about sweet lupins, which is a variety cultivated to contain much less poisonous alkaloids compared to its traditional relatives. The older, bitter varieties have to undergo long soaking/processing to make them palatable, and have been traditionally enjoyed as a salted, pickled snack, for example in Portugal… here is a delightful blog post about that process.

Sweet lupins are simpler to prepare, much like any other variety of bean — soak overnight, drain, and let simmer until tender. Unlike most regular beans though, sweet lupins retain their sturdy texture, making them great for salads or stews requiring a bit of bite. This is because of their unusual composition: they have a very high protein content (35-45%), a lot of fiber and relatively little starch and fat. This is good news for those searching for a plant protein source comparable to soy, or if you’re watching your starch intake. Unlike soy though, lupins are not a complete protein source (low sulphur amino acid content), but are complementary with cereal proteins.

So once you’ve soaked and cooked your lupins, and you got yourself some plump, pleasantly chewy yellow jewels, what to do? Well, you can toss them in a salad, add them to a soup or stew, or pretend they are chickpeas and make lupin hummus or falafels. Or, if you got your hands on some lupin flour, try adding it to wheat-based baked goods such as bread, cookies or cake for a nutritional boost (up to 12% of the flour content). I started with a simple lupin bean dip/spread, the recipe for which is below. I loved the unique flavour, which for some reason reminded me of cheese — hearty and with more depth than good ol’ white beans, for example, which tend to hang out on the blander end of the spectrum.

Now that I’ve hopefully caught your tastebuds’ attention, a little intellectual fodder for why you might consider adding sweet lupins to your culinary repertoire. They are one of the few legumes that can be grown in temperate climates with cool nights, resist frost and can grow with minimal use of fertilizers. In fact, they can be cultivated in extreme conditions in different corners of the globe such as Iceland, Alaska, and Patagonia. Their nitrogen-fixing properties are greater than other legumes, and they also mobilize phosphorus and other minerals fixed in the soil, thus improving the quality of poor soils, making them an ideal component of sustainable crop rotation. Lastly, we can do fun stuff like breed varieties with little alkaloids in the beans but a lot in the stems, to make them resistant to insects and pests, thus requiring minimal pesticide use. These guys are clearly winners on a lot of fronts, which is why they’re extensively cultivated as green manure, livestock and poultry feed, and high-protein additive in animal and human food. So, why not skip the animal-y part of that chain and try play with them directly?

Tomato-rosemary lupin bean spread

Ingredients

500g cooked sweet lupin beans (about 250g dried?)
200g tomato paste
150g olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
0.5-1 tablespoon sea salt (or to taste)
A dash of black pepper, chili powder, smoked paprika (to taste)

Method

Blend all that together until you have a spread/dip-like consistency. Easy peasy! If you don’t have a good blender but a little patience, I guess a regular stick blender will do the job.