Easiest climate-friendly comfort food: Black Beans and Rice


This meal is by far the simplest meal on the blog—it can literally take under five minutes to prep!  If you are literally too tired to chop garlic, or even to call in for food delivery, this is the meal for you.  Also, it can be made with just a few items you probably keep on hand.

Beans can be a staple food for those trying to lessen environmental impact.  Not only do they have low carbon, nitrogen, and water footprints, functionally, they can replace foods with much higher impact, such as beef.

So, for a while, I’ve been on the lookout for a delicious and simple bean recipe for days when I am really squeezed for time.  I wanted a meal that I would really look forward to eating, that would be healthier than take out, but wouldn’t require much energy.

This recipe was a success for the whole family!

You’ll need:

I can of beans, rinsed and drained

½ cup water and 1.5 t dry vegetable broth (or just use ½ cup broth)

½ t granulated garlic

¼ t cumin

¼ to ½ t black pepper depending on how much of a kick you want

¼ or so salt (you’ll want to add enough to make the flavors pop)

This is all you need for the beans (in addition to salt):


This only serves 2-3, so make sure you double it if necessary.


  • Put all ingredients in a bowl.
  • Bring to a boil, and then simmer until heated through and the flavors have had a chance to meld with the beans.

Serve with a grain and a simple salad for a quick and very satisfying meal.  We most recently had these beans in a great bowl with rice, avocado, and tomatoes.  If you don’t have rice, or are trying to increase your greens, just serve these beans along with greens.  Add hot sauce and/or lime, as you like.

For a serving of this rice bowl, which has a total of 325 calories, the carbon footprint is 254 g CO2-eq, with 96 g CO2-eq coming from the rice, and 66, 64, and 27 g CO2-eq coming from the beans, avocado, and tomato, respectively.  A similar meal also totaling 325 calories but using beef chili instead of the beans would have a total of 2449 g CO2-eq, with 2261 g CO2-eq coming from the beef!  Switching from the beef chili to the beans one time save the carbon equivalents emitted in a 9.9 mile drive (assuming 40 MPG)!  Doing a simple shift like this everyday for a year adds up to avoiding the emissions in driving across the country!!

The nitrogen footprint of the whole beans and rice meal is 3.2 g N per serving, with 1.4 and 0.8 g N coming from the beans and rice, respectively.  For comparison, the beef chili results in a N footprint of 21.9 g N, with 20 g N coming from the beef.  There is bit about nitrogen cycle on the Science page of this blog, and the N footprint website is a great resource.

The water footprint of the bean and rice bowl is 325 L per serving, with 145 and 111 L coming from the beans and rice, respectively.  The beef chili meal has a water footprint of 745 L per serving.  Those extra 420 L are equivalent to running the shower for 44 minutes with a standard shower head, or an hour and 14 minutes with a low flow shower head!

If you are worried about flatulence, your body should adjust to increased legume intake.  A 2011 study compared gas production over an eight-week period in groups given added beans compared to controls and found that during the first week, 35% of the bean-consuming participants reported increased gas, but this number steadily decreased throughout the duration of the study, reaching 5% by week 5, and 3% by week 8 (Winham and Hutchins, 2011).

What about the carbon footprint of increased gas from beans?  A study by Tomlin et al. (1991) analyzed gas production in healthy adults given an additional 200 g baked beans to their diets.  They produced on average 0.010 g/day methane, and 0.140 g per day of carbon dioxide.  If we assume methane is about 20 times more potent than CO2, that gives 0.340 g CO2-eq.  Compare that to the 1,995 g saved when switching from beef chili to beans. (See the bottom of the Science section for citation info.)

Some tips to reduce gassiness: If you are using canned beans, rinse before using.  If you are cooking them from dry, make sure to soak and cook them long enough, and discard the cooking water.

Please follow the blog for weekly recipes with low environmental footprint!

Planet-Friendly Hummus Pomodoro

This beautiful main course (or starter) is planet friendly and soooo delicious!  The recipe is called Hummus Pomodoro with Warm Pizza Crust, and it’s by the amazing Chef Chloe Coscarelli.  You can find the recipe here.  The spread is actually a white bean puree with lemon garlic flavor, so think Italian, rather than Middle Eastern.


Please check out the original link for the full recipe.  I’ll summarize here:

  1. Process in a blender till smooth:
    • 1 15 oz. can of white beans, rinsed and drained
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1 T lemon juice
    • 1 clove garlic
    • 1/2 t salt
    • 1/2 t freshly ground pepper
  2. Combine one medium chopped tomatoes and 1/4 cup freshly chopped basil.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  You can top the creamy garlic dip with this mixture, or leave in separate bowls.
  3. Spread the delicious creamy dip and tomatoes on warm pizza crusts (see recipe for homemade).  You can also use crostini or baguette slices.

This will serve 4 to 6 as a starter, although my husband and I polished the whole recipe off for dinner.


  • I made it without the oil just to keep it lighter and it was still really yummy.  I added a bit more lemon and some water to make it smooth.
  • I added two cloves garlic rather than just one.

Nutrition Info and Environmental Footprint:

Assuming 6 servings, each serving has 314 calories (the version without oil has 230 calories), 9.9 grams protein, and a carbon footprint of just 89 g CO2-eq. The embodied water footprint is 223 L of water, and the nitrogen footprint is 1.9 g N lost per serving.

Compare this to a pasta with ground beef tomato sauce, which for the same 9.9 grams protein has a carbon footprint per serving of 552 g CO2-eq.  The water footprint is 285 L/serving, and the nitrogen footprint is 5.5 g N lost/serving.

The carbon saved by cooking this recipe rather than the pasta with meat sauce just one time is the equivalent of the carbon emissions in a 12.5 mile car drive!  If you made a similar switch every day for a year, it would mean saving the equivalent of about 4500 miles (assuming 40 MPG)!!

Enjoy!  Please follow the blog for weekly low carbon footprint recipes!


USDA Food Composition Database

Leach et al. (2016) Environmental impact food labels combining carbon, nitrogen, and water footprints. Food Policy, 61:213-223.




Baked Buffalo Bites

Like buffalo sauce?  You will love this recipe for baked buffalo bites of cauliflower, tofu, or tempeh, and the planet will be happy due to the low carbon footprint!  Don’t be daunted by the directions, which sound a bit complicated.  The prep is actually really fun and pretty quick, and the bites are sooo delicious.  My nephew and his fiancé made a gigantic pile of these made out of tempeh for a dinner party, and everyone, omnivores and veggies alike, devoured every last one of them (even though many people were new to tempeh).  My family loves them best made out of cauliflower (a great way to increase your vegetable intake), and next best out of firm tofu.

Here they are made out of cauliflower:


You can find the original recipe for tempeh wings here at Home for 28 Cooks (shown below).


You’ll need to set up four bowls in series:

  • This first bowl will contain at least 2/3 cup soymilk (you can also use other alternative milks)
  • 2/3 cup flour with the following mixed in:
    • 1 t salt
    • 2 t thyme leaves
    • 2 t paprika
    • 1 t garlic powder
    • black pepper to taste
  • another bowl of at least 2/3 cup soymilk
  • Italian seasoned panko crumbs (about 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet.

Break a large cauliflower head into bite sized pieces.  Pick up each piece individually and dip it into each of the four bowls sequentially.  Place each bite onto the baking sheet in a single layer.

Bake for 10 minutes, flip, then bake another 10 minutes, or slightly longer so the batter on each piece is dry.

You can toss these in straight Frank’s or a similar Lousiana-style sauce, or you can mix ½ cup of Frank’s with 2 T margarine and 1 T ketchup.

If you are using firm tofu instead of cauliflower, you can just slice it up straight out of the container, and start dipping. If you are using tempeh, it may taste better if you boil or steam it first (see the link above).


Each of the four servings made by this recipe (using cauliflower, and margarine in the sauce) has 209 calories and 6 grams protein, and delivers fiber, Ca, and vit C.  The carbon footprint is a very modest 48 g CO2-eq per serving!  Using tempeh or tofu instead of cauliflower increases the calories, protein, and carbon footprint by just a bit (to 239 calories, 9 grams protein, and 57 g CO2-eq per serving), while also increasing the fiber, calcium, iron, and vit A.

If you made this recipe with chicken, butter in the sauce, and dairy milk, the carbon footprint of each serving would be 287 g CO2-eq, with 127, 83, and 54 g CO2-eq coming from chicken, butter, and milk, respectively.  Each 236 calorie serving has 12 grams protein, but is lacking in fiber and vitamins.

Each time you cook a batch of these using either tofu, tempeh or cauliflower, you save the equivalent of the gas used in a drive of about four miles, or the energy required to burn a halogen bulb for approximately 40 hours.




Simple Sunday Pancakes

This is a great, simple pancake recipe.  Top it with lots of berries and nuts, or chocolate chips if you are feeling decadent.  If you use white whole wheat flour, you get the benefits of whole grains (lots of fiber, more protein and vitamins), but still a lighter pancake.  It also works with standard whole wheat or white flour—you’ll just find you need to add more or less milk to get the consistency right.


Photo credit: Layla Patel

  • 1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour (You can use other types of flour, but this one is whole grain and also very light.)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ½ T maple syrup
  • 1 ½ cups vanilla soy milk plus a bit more to get a good consistency. (You can use unsweetened or sweetened soymilk.  Rice and almond work well too.)

Mix the dry ingredients together with a fork, or sift to break up any lumps in the baking powder.

Add the wet ingredients and stir.  Add more milk or water until the batter will run off your spoon like a syrup.  You can adjust the consistency depending on how you like your pancakes.

Use some oil or margarine to grease your pan, and heat it to medium.

You know the pan is hot enough when the batter will sizzle just a bit when poured on.

While you are cooking the first side, you can add blueberries, apple slices, chocolate chips, etc.

Flip when you see small bubbles form and remain open when they pop, even toward the middle of the pancake.  You may need to adjust your heat so that you don’t burn the bottoms.

Each of the four servings has 196 calories and 9 grams of protein, and has a carbon footprint of 48 g CO2-eq.  The breakdown is 26 and 21 CO2-eq per serving for the flour and vanilla soymilk, respectively, and 1 CO2-eq for the teaspoon of margarine. If you used unsweetened soymilk, the carbon footprint drops to 16 g CO2-eq for the milk, resulting in a total carbon footprint of 43 g CO2-eq per serving.

For comparison, if you used 2% dairy milk, an egg, and 1 t butter to grease the pan, the total footprint would be 201 g CO2-eq per serving, with 122, 39, and 14 g CO2-eq coming from the milk, egg, and butter, respectively.  (Each serving would have 220 calories and 10 g protein.)

Making pancakes for four people using this low carbon footprint recipe saves the gas you would use in a 3-mile car ride, or the energy to run a high efficiency light bulb for 26 hours.

For toppings, sticking with local, seasonal fruits is best. For example, a 100 g serving of strawberries would add approximately 9 g CO2-eq, while the same size serving of banana would add 33 g CO2-eq.

Enjoy your breakfast and have a great day!

Peanut butter cookies

This recipe makes a delicious, quintessential peanut butter cookie.  It’s from a great cookbook by Alicia Simpson, which you can check out here.  The author has graciously agreed to let us publish her recipe and the carbon footprint on this site.


Makes 24 cookies.

You’ll need:

½ cup granulated sugar

½ brown sugar

½ cup non-hydrogenated margarine (I like Earth Balance), softened

½ cup natural peanut butter

¼ cup unsweetened applesauce

2 T plain soy or almond milk

1 ½ cups flour

¾ t baking soda

½ t salt

Note: You may want to experiment with the type of flour you add.  Depending on the flour, you can add a fraction of whole wheat flour up to 2/3 or so before it starts feeling too heavy.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix the first four ingredients together.  You can use an electric mixer if you have one handy, but it’s okay if not.  Mix in margarine and peanut butter, then the applesauce and soy or almond milk.  You should mix together the baking soda and salt with the flour before adding it to the mixture, so you don’t get clumps.

Make 1” balls, drop them onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and use a fork to make a cross-hatch pattern.

Bake for 9-11 minutes, depending on how crunchy you like them.

These cuties have just 30 g CO2-eq per cookie, with 10 g CO2-eq coming from the peanut butter, 4 g CO2-eq from each of the sugars, and 5 g CO2-eq from both the margarine and the flour.  The applesauce contributes less than 1 g CO2-eq, and the soymilk less than 0.5 g CO2-eq, all per cookie.  If you used butter instead of margarine, the difference in impact would be a whopping 51 g CO2-eq per cookie, for a total of 81 g CO2-eq per cookie (the added butter contributes 56 g CO2-eq per cookie, roughly twice the total of all of the other ingredients)!!  An egg added to this recipe would contribute 7 g CO2-eq per cookie.

Baking just one batch of cookies with a plant-based margarine saves the equivalent of taking a 6 mile drive in a 40 MPG car.

This calculation shows the important role cutting down on dairy can play in reducing our carbon footprint.  The reason is that cows are ruminant animals, which means their natural digestion process produces methane—a greenhouse gas with greater warming potential than CO2.  In fact, an omnivorous diet very low in dairy can have a smaller footprint than a vegetarian diet that includes lots of cheese and milk.

If you are into low or no added sugar desserts, please stay tuned!  I will be adding some great recipes along those lines soon.

Note:  These calculations use conversion factors from: Heller, M.C. and G.A. Keoleian. 2015. Greenhouse gas emission estimates of U.S. dietary choices and food loss. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 19(3): 391-401.

Easy Aloo Ghobi (Indian Potato and Cauliflower)

This recipe is crazy easy to throw together, and you won’t believe how great it tastes!!  It is a staple in our house, serving as an excellent side dish for red lentil dahl (last post).  Both dishes heat up well for lunches the next day.   To make this dish a main course, you can add a bag of frozen edamame to it.  A side salad topped with cumin powder, lemon juice, and salt is nice alongside it.




Ingredients (serves 6):

1 medium head of cauliflower

4 medium potatoes

2 tomatoes (field production, not hothouse, to minimize footprint–see below)

1 T black mustard seeds

1 T cumin seeds

2 t turmeric

2 t salt (or to taste)


  • Preheat over to 400.
  • Chop up the potatoes, cauliflower, and tomatoes, and put the pieces into one large bowl.
  • Add the whole seeds, turmeric, and salt.
  • Transfer to a roasting pan with a cover (or use foil).
  • Bake 40 min or until vegetables are soft. You might want to stir once during roasting so that you get even cooking.

Each of the six servings (123 calories each, with lots of vitamins thanks to the cauliflower and tomato) for this recipe has 76 g CO2-eq associated with it.  (The potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes, and seeds contribute 21, 38, 9, and 8 g CO2-eq/serving, respectively.)  If you used hothouse tomatoes, the contribution from the tomatoes alone would be 159 g CO2-eq, and the new total would be 226 g CO2-eq!!

For comparison, one medium baked potato topped with onion and margarine would have a footprint of 67 g CO2-eq, while a potato with sour cream, butter, and cheese would have 534 g CO2-eq associated with it.  Just one portion of switching from the more loaded potato to the aloo ghobi with field production tomatoes saves the amount of gas used to drive a car two miles.

Amount and food g CO2-eq calories
1 medium potato 31 129
1 T margarine 19 99
¼ onion, chopped 14 15
2 T sour cream 65 43
1 T butter 167 99
¼ cup cheese 274 110

Notes on sources of data: Nutritional info is from the USDA Food Composition Database, and greenhouse gas emissions conversion factors all items except tomatoes are from Heller and Keoleian 2015.  Conversion factors for various production styles of tomatoes are from Heller et al. 2013.  Seeds and nuts are assumed to be in the same category, as in Meier and Christen 2013.  CO2-eq includes greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide (such as methane), expressed in terms of the warming potential of CO2.

Note on recipe: I originally learned to make aloo ghobi from Anand and Nisha Patel—a big thank you to these great chefs!!  Their recipe involves roasting the seeds in oil, and cooking the potatoes and cauliflower on the stove top.  It is fantastically delicious done this way.  For this recipe, I added tomato for some liquid while roasting, and I toss it all together into the oven just in the interest of simplicity.


Heller, M.C. and G.A. Keoleian. 2015. Greenhouse gas emission estimates of U.S. dietary choices and food loss. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 19(3): 391-401.

Heller, M.C., G.A. Keoleian., and W. C. Willett. 2013. Toward a Life Cycle-Based, Diet-level Framework for Food Environmental Impact and Nutritional Quality Assessment: A Critical Review.  Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 12632−12647.

Meier, T., and O. Christen. 2013.  Environmental Impacts of Dietary Recommendations and Dietary Styles: Germany As an Example. Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 877−888.


Red Lentil Dahl

This satisfying Indian soup is delicious, super healthy, and very easy on the planet.  It makes a great side dish, and if you serve it with a salad and rice or naan, it can be the main dish.


Photo credit: Kai Patel.  Pottery credit: Joey Sage Jablonski.

Beans and lentils have an especially low carbon footprint when compared to other high protein foods, partly because they are plants, and partly because their roots support microbes that can draw nitrogen from the atmosphere and change it to a form that is usable by plants!  This saves a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, because making nitrogen–rich fertilizer requires a great deal of energy.

Once you get into the routine of making it, this soup is actually quite quick to whip up.  You’ll see many of the ingredients are listed as optional, so don’t be afraid to try this even without the particular spices.  Red lentils taste great cooked up with just salt and garlic, so you really can’t go wrong!

Ingredients: (Makes 8 servings)

2 cups red lentils (they are light orange in color but are called red lentils)

2 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1/2 to 1” piece of fresh ginger, grated (or use ½ teaspoon powder if in a hurry)

1 t turmeric

2 t salt plus more to taste

1 t cumin seeds or powder

1 t coriander powder

1 t garam masala (optional)

a bit of cayenne pepper (optional)

2 small onions, finely chopped (optional)

2 tomatoes, chopped (optional)

3 handfuls spinach (optional)

juice from a lemon (optional)

  1. Wash the lentils thoroughly.  For the first few rinses, the water will be very cloudy.  Keep rinsing until the rinse water is fairly clear.
  2. Put the rinsed lentils in a saucepan with 5 cups of water.  Start with the heat on high.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, through the tomatoes.
  4. When you reach a boil, turn the heat down and simmer uncovered.
  5. Add the spinach when the lentils start to get soft.
  6. You’ll know it’s done when it’s a nice consistency and the lentils are still distinct, but soft.  If you cook it too long the mixture will get pasty.
  7. Squeeze in some lemon juice at the end.

Variation:  Instead of the tomatoes and onions, you can add a cup of chopped cauliflower and a chopped carrot.  You can also leave out the garlic and ginger.

Each of the 8 servings has 212 calories and results in just 71 g CO2-eq.  Compare this to a beef chili, which for a serving with the same calories results in a massive 3,024 g CO2-eq.  Switching just one meal one time from the beef chili to the dahl saves the amount of gas required to drive 13 miles in a 40 MPG car (per serving)!  This really adds up—if every day you made a similar shift for one meal per day for a year, you would save the gas used to drive the same car 4,850 miles!

And while the protein in the dahl is somewhat less than in the beef chili (14 g versus 25 g), the iron is actually higher in the dahl (4.1 mg versus 2.7 mg), as are the fiber (15 g versus 1 g), vitamin A (850 mg versus 9 mg), and calcium (41 versus 28 mg).

The credit for this recipe goes to Nisha and Anand Patel, two of the very best chefs I have ever met!



Simple Cream of Broccoli Soup

Creamy vegetable soups can vary really widely in impact on the environment, because creaminess can come either from dairy (relatively high environmental impact), or from alternatives including potatoes, cashews, or soy milk (less greenhouse gas intensive).


Photo credit: Kai Patel.  The gorgeous bowl is from Funkware Pottery.

For this quick and easy recipe, two potatoes are cooked up with onion in vegetable broth, with broccoli added later.  The whole mix goes into your blender (or you can immersion blend), and you can season with salt, pepper, lemon, etc.  If you like nutritional yeast, this is a great place for it to introduce a cheesy touch, but it tastes great either way!

See here  for the recipe from Bon Appetit.  This recipe has you saute the onion in oil, but you can also use water if you are trying to avoid added oil.

Assuming 4 servings, the carbon footprint of this recipe is a climate-cooling 64 g CO2-eq per serving!  About half of that footprint comes from the broccoli, with the potato, oil, and onion making up the rest.

Contrast this with a traditional recipe, which has a whopping footprint of 472 g CO2-eq per serving! 89% of the footprint comes from butter and half and half!!

Beet hummus



Below is a recipe that the UCLA Public Health Nutrition Club and the Healthy Campus Initiative have been using in instruction food demos.

Assuming 6 servings, the hummus results in 90 g CO2-equivalent emissions per serving.  For comparison, a 1 oz slice of cheese results in 274 g CO2 eq emissions.  To put this in context, switching from the cheese to the hummus just once equates to saving emissions equivalent to those released by a 0.8 mile drive (assuming a 40 mile per gallon car).





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