Filling and Frugal

August 12, 2022

Mrs. B. Grama

Facilitated by Shira Markovitch

When I was raising my children in Eretz Yisrael four and five decades ago, food was very expensive. We kollel wives were all faced with the challenge of feeding our families on a paper-thin kollel budget, and we made do without fish and poultry during the week. In fact, we hardly knew the taste of meat because we only served it on the Shalosh Regalim and Rosh Hashanah. Freezers were made tiny. Mine held only three chickens; we had no need for more space.

At the Shabbos meal each week, we could tell that our children’s bodies craved the fish and chicken we served. We could see how badly they needed protein. I knew something was off-balance, so I shared my concerns with a Shabbos guest who had once worked at a macrobiotic restaurant. She drew the attached diagram[SH1]  and explained that complementary proteins achieve the nutritional value found in fish, eggs, meat, and poultry when combined with complementary proteins from other categories.

When we began combining proteins in our kitchens, we were thrilled to watch our once protein-hungry children leaving the table completely satisfied. Shabbos would come, and though we all thoroughly enjoyed the fish and chicken, the cravings were gone. Our children were satiated. As their mothers, we couldn’t have been happier.

The science

Animal-based proteins—known as complete proteins—contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need. Most plant-based proteins, however, are incomplete proteins which only contain some amino acids.

The key is in the combinations. One incomplete protein may be missing an essential amino acid that another incomplete protein holds. When you combine incomplete proteins, you consume all the health value of a thick, juicy steak.

Examples of complementary proteins

When two or more proteins from the four different categories are combined, they form a complete protein. Complementary proteins do not need to be cooked together; they can be served as separate dishes within a half-hour period to achieve complete protein status.

The following are included in each category:

Legumes: all kinds of beans such as lima, pinto, and garbanzo beans (chickpeas), soybeans, and tofu (made from soybeans); peas and split peas, lentils, peanuts

Nuts and seeds: all nuts including almonds and walnuts; poppy seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, tahini (which is made from sesame seeds), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds

Whole grains: whole wheat, whole barley, whole oats, whole spelt, brown rice, oats, buckwheat (kasha), quinoa, millet

Milk and milk products

An old idea

If you think about it, this concept—without the health and scientific jargon—had already been implemented all over the world from way back. Ethnic foods, especially those of poor countries, are age-old combinations of incomplete proteins. People instinctively have always eaten the things that just made them feel good.

Using the chart above, notice how the following ethnic foods form complete proteins:

  • Israeli falafel (falafel balls are made from chickpeas) sprinkled with tahini. If you wrap it in a whole wheat pita, you may even triple its protein value.
  • The classic beans-and-rice dish that’s popular among Mexicans and others.
  • Mujaddara (majedra), a Syrian staple made of brown rice and lentils.
  • The cholent we know and love even without meat provides a complete protein. Meat was added to the recipe by later, more affluent generations.

Why now?

While the ravenous inflation steals a mouthful of every item at the supermarket, fish, meat, and chicken prices seem disproportionately impacted. The USDA has reported a 15 percent increase in chicken and meat prices for the first quarter of 2022 alone. Grocery bills have nearly doubled as we attempt to continue to make the same meals despite these changes. You may have swallowed hard and paid the increased price of proteins. After all, you need to feed balanced meals to your family.

Armed with an expanded understanding of complete proteins, you can now keep your family healthy and satiated at dramatically reduced costs. All you need are some complementary proteins accompanied by a big bowl of fruit or veggies, and a full, nutrient-dense dinner is served.

Do you have any complementary protein recipes to share with our readers? Send them to


More complementary protein combinations

Split pea soup with whole grain bread

Salad with quinoa and nuts

Tacos with black beans and brown rice

Protein-rich soup (see sidebar for recipe)




You don’t have to be Syrian to enjoy this satisfying and nutritious ethnic dish. It’s great for Friday lunch or whenever you don’t know quite what to make. Mujaddara is tasty and filling, and people feel good after eating it.


2/3 cups brown rice

1/3 cup green lentils

2½ cups water

Approximately ¼ cup oil

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Onion powder to taste

3 onions, sautéed (optional)


Check and rinse rice and lentils.

Boil water with oil, salt, pepper, and onion powder.

Once the water is boiling, add rice and lentils. Reboil and lower the flame. Cook for about 25–30 minutes, until only about 95 percent done, before all the water is absorbed. Don’t overcook.

Turn off the fire and let the mujaddara stand covered for about 7 minutes.

Fluff with a fork, top with sautéed onions if desired, and serve.

Vegetable- and Protein-Rich Soup

This is a delicious one-pot meal. Feel free to alter the recipe to your family’s taste; just make sure to include a combination of protein complements to meet your family’s protein needs.


Oil for sautéing

Onions, diced

Garlic (fresh or frozen)

Celery stalks, diced

Celery root, diced

Kohlrabi, diced

Parsnip, diced

Turnip, diced

Carrots, sliced

Squash (any type), cut into thick cubes

Green beans (fresh, frozen, or canned)

Mushrooms (fresh, frozen, or canned)

Potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, cubed

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Parsley (fresh or frozen)

Dill (fresh or frozen)


Approximately ½ cup beans (according to your family’s taste), any types, soaked overnight in cold water or boiled for 1 hour, then checked

Approximately ½ cup barley or a handful or oats (according to your family’s taste), uncooked

Tofu, cubed


Sauté the vegetables in a large pot in the order listed, one at a time, waiting until each is golden before adding the next. Mix after each new vegetable is added. (This method brings out the full flavor of each vegetable.)

When everything is golden, add salt, pepper, garlic cubes, parsley, dill, and water to generously cover (according to your family’s preferences for a thicker or thinner soup).

Add beans, barley/oats, and tofu.

Cook on a small flame for about 90 minutes, until beans are soft.

Optional: Leave whole only the vegetables your kids don’t mind bumping into; blend the rest and return to the soup.


The hidden gem of grains, kasha is a delicious canvas for any toppings from sautéed vegetables to tofu and even precooked beans. This cooks quickly but requires both a pot and a frying pan.


Approximately 1/3 cup oil

2 15-oz. cans tomato sauce


Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Onion powder to taste

2 eggs

13-oz. box coarse kasha (use only coarse)


In the pot, heat oil. Add tomato sauce. Refill each of the empty cans with water once and add to pot. Add spices and boil.

In the frying pan, beat the eggs and mix into the kasha until each kasha grain is coated. Do not open the flame until the eggs and kasha are well combined.

Once mixed, toast the kasha and eggs over a small flame, being careful not to let it burn.

Once the liquid has boiled, add toasted kasha, reboil, lower the flame, and cook for about 10 minutes.

Shut fire and let set for 10 minutes to completely absorb liquid.

Note: For fleishig, substitute chicken or meat gravy for tomato sauce.