Cyclists, especially those of us on the plant-based end of the spectrum, eat a lot of grains and legumes. They are filling, versatile, and nutritious. They are cheap, especially when bought in bulk. They are chock-full of carbohydrates, the rocket fuel for your muscles. (Some people say carbs are bad for you. Some people also think that climate change is a Chinese hoax and that vaccines cause autism.) The two most popular seem to be rice and pasta. You see them in cookbooks, any discussion of diets during the Grand Tours, etc. For good reason–they taste amazing. I love my rice and pasta. Lentils and quinoa don’t seem quite as ubiquitous, but I still hear about them quite a bit. (Dried beans are an option, but they are annoying to cook, and most recipes just call for canned beans, so I’m not including them in this discussion.)
There’s one staple that I never heard anyone talk about, that I discovered for myself while scanning the bulk foods section for something cheaper than rice and more nutrient-dense than pasta: split peas. It was a revelation. They’ve become my go-to dinner, combined with veggies and sauces or used in soups.
When I tell people this, they are either a) mildly interested or b) disgusted. Apparently lots of folks had bad childhood experiences with split pea soup. I was never subjected to that, so I had no biases coming into this brave new world.
Instead of trying to convince you to add them to your pantry (or even replace your rice and pasta), I’m just going to offer a side-by-side comparison.
Okay, I will say one thing. Look at the fiber and protein content.
If you know me, you know that I love pancakes. They are my favorite food. That’s not an exaggeration. Last meal before lethal injection? Pancakes, no doubt. Probably with blueberries, chocolate chips, and ice cream (you reach a point in life where eating healthy to prolong your life no longer makes sense. Fortunately/unfortunately I’m not there yet.)
I’m ashamed to admit that until a couple years ago, I was using store-bought pancake mix. I grew up with Bisquick, and once I began cooking on my own I switched to options with less weird, unpronounceable ingredients. The idea of making mix from scratch never really dawned on me until a friend politely said something to the extent of “what the hell are you doing?” I didn’t have a good answer. Shortly thereafter I started making my own mix, and found it to be cheaper, healthier, and tastier.
This is the recipe I’ve developed. I make pancakes anywhere between three and seven times a week, so trust me on this.
Gluten-free folks: I like wheat, so I have not experimented much with alternative flours. Sorry.
1/2 cup applesauce (or your preferred egg replacement)
Water or plant-based milk (depends on your level of luxury)
1. Mix the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
2. Add the egg replacement and vanilla. Mix some more.
3. Add water or milk. Notice I didn’t give you an exact amount. Add it until you like the consistency. The more liquid, the thinner the pancakes. Obviously.
4. Add fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, whatever. Get creative. Anything can go in a pancake.
5. Mix until smooth. It’s okay if there are some lumps.
6. If you’re using a griddle, cook on 375 degrees. On the stovetop, cook at medium heat. Only rookies look underneath to decide when to flip. Don’t do this. Flip ’em when the edges are firm and cooked and there are bubbles in the middle.
7. Eat up. This recipe makes 1 serving (8-10 pancakes).
Minimalists rejoice. All this recipe really needs is flour, water, and baking soda or baking powder. I’ve even made them with just flour and water in a pinch.
If you want them extra fluffy to impress the inlaws, add more baking powder.
For banana or sweet potato pancakes, blend the bananas/sweet potatoes separately and add to the mix after Step 2. You won’t need to add as much water or milk.
If you have sweet tooth, add sugar/your preferred natural sweetener with the dry ingredients.
A little bit of lemon juice can complement the vanilla nicely, especially with blueberry pancakes.
For waffles, use the same recipe but go for a thinner batter.
A Final Consideration
Most people are taught to eat pancakes on a plate, with a knife and fork, with the toppings spread out over the stack or spread of pancakes. What if I told you there is a better way?
Introducing pancake tacos. I don’t know if I invented them, but I haven’t seen them anywhere else, so let’s assume I did. Basically, treat the pancakes like tacos and your toppings like fillings.
So, you put the pancakes on a plate. You take a pancake. You scoop nut butter/apple sauce/chocolate/ice cream/syrup/fresh fruit/dried fruit/etc into the pancake. You eat it with your hands, like a taco.
If you ride bikes, eat a hearty plant-based diet, or both (they go great together), you need a rice cooker. If you don’t know how to cook, you need a rice cooker. If you’re crunched for time, or just lazy, you need a rice cooker. Seriously, these things are magical.
Brief explanation for the uninitiated: the rice cooker is a beautiful device. It’s basically a stove that you plug in and don’t have to watch, a sort of cousin to the less versatile and intelligent crockpot. It lets you go enjoy life while it does all the complicated water boiling and cooking for you. Cookers can range in size from relatively small to relatively larger, with a range of timing and food settings.
The most obvious use of a rice cooker is to cook rice. Obviously. But if that’s all you use it for, I’m afraid to say that you’re missing out. You’re riding in the little ring in your kitchen. I hate to say it, but you are. Using a rice cooker just for rice is like using your phone only to call people, or using Netflix just to watch Gilmore Girls reruns. Completely absurd.
Here are some other ways to use that workhorse on your kitchen counter that you didn’t even know you had. Trust me, it’s silently begging to live up to its full potential and use its engineer-given gifts to improve your life.
The forgotten three.Lentils, split peas, and (dry) beans. Available in bulk at your local co-op, these cook similar to rice and all provide around 50 grams of protein per cup. They are also much cheaper than rice, usually by more than $1/pound. Beans take a little more water, and soak them overnight so they cook faster.
Oatmeal. Most days, my breakfast is oatmeal and fruit. It’s stupidly easy. Wake up, add the oats and water, press start, leave for a ride. Come home, add the fruit, and enjoy. Rolled oats are also available in bulk for super cheap; don’t be a rookie and buy the cardboard tube with Ben Franklin’s face on it. I cook mine on the “Quick Rice” setting and it takes all of 15 minutes. If you’re feeling adventurous, add the fruit/spices/sugary stuff to the oats and water and let it all cook together. I won’t tell you what happens.
Steaming veggies. I’ve seen some cookers without a plastic rack that lets you steam vegetables up top while the cooking happens down below. If you have one of these, I pity you. Ask for a new one for Christmas and make sure Santa knows you want a cooker with a nice big pot and steaming rack. Or treat yourself, because you’re an adult, dammit, and you’re tired of cooking your vegetables separately while all that good steam goes to waste.
Chili. Chili is one of those rare foods, like pizza, that checks all the boxes. It’s delicious and filling. It’s great for feeding groups. It’s simple, yet open to endless interpretation and variation. Unlike pizza, it’s not such a good idea in summer. But after three miserable hours on the trainer in the dead of winter, there’s nothing better. Put your hodgepodge of veggies and spices in the rice cooker, set the slow cook for as long as you’re willing to wait, and then nourish your soul.
Pilaf. My cooker has a “saute-then-simmer” function; I’m not sure how common this is. If you’re lucky enough to have it, use it for rice (or other grain) pilaf. Simmer some onions, garlic, and spices for a few minutes, then add the grain of choice, water, vegetables, and curry powder. I’m a big fan of sweet potatoes and carrot for an orange medley, but anything works. If you really want to bulk up those pipe cleaner cycling arms, toss in some tofu or tempeh and do a couple push ups afterwards.
That should be enough to get you started. Remember, the rice cooker is your friend. It wants to help you. Let it help you.