Today we’re diving in to the world of pulses: what they are and how to eat ’em + 3 super easy and super healthy recipes!
Today we’re talking pulses. But not the kind of pulses that have anything to do with your heart rate. No, the ‘pulses’ I’m referring to are foods in the legume family, specifically the dried versions of peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans and others of their ilk. In 2013 the United Nations declared that 2016 would be the International Year of Pulses (!!!), and well, that year has finally arrived. Time to jump on the bandwagon, people. Heralded not just for their nutritional value — these “grain legumes” are rich in fibre and protein and are an incredible source of vitamins and amino acids — pulses are also one of the most sustainable and farm-friendly crops a farmer can grow; along with regenerating the nitrogen levels in soil, pulse crops save an enormous amount of water. According to IYP2016.org (that would be the official pulse website), it takes just 43 gallons of water to grow one pound of pulses, compared to 368 gallons for peanuts and 216 for soybeans. That’s a huge difference, and with climate change at the top of everyone’s mind, not insignificant. Boasting a low price tag, pulses also play a major role in food security both inside and outside the developing world with their sustainable, plant-based nutrition and affordability.
Until recently, I’d written off legumes and pulses almost entirely. Save for the occasional lentil salad, I steered clear of including them in my diet because of how I presumed they made me feel. During the 5 years I spent as a vegetarian, I ate my fare share of canned black beans and even came up with a pretty spectacular recipe for homemade hummus, but those foods came with a price: stomach upset, bloating, and… well… gas. Turns out, canned legumes and dried pulses are not one and the same and there are ways to prepare these pantry staples to minimize their less desirable effects. What better time than the International Year of Pulses to start adding this incredible plant-based protein back into my diet? If you’re curious about pulses, today I’m diving in and learning right along with you. Read on to brush up on your bean knowledge and be sure to check out the super easy recipes I’ve included, too.
What is it? Pulses, which are also known as “grain legumes”, belong to the legume family but refer specifically to the dried versions and include dried lentils, dried chickpeas, dried beans and dried split peas.
What are the benefits? Each pulse includes it’s own unique benefits, but as a whole, the 12 crops that make up pulses all boast incredibly high protein and fibre levels, essential amino acids, and are filled with vitamins and minerals that have proven pulses play a key role in disease prevention. An economical choice for plant-based protein, 2016 was declared to be the International Year of Pulses by the UN with the aim being to position pulses as a primary source of protein in both the developing and developed world.
How do I use it? While canned legumes are still good for you, the benefits of pulses far exceed their canned counterparts, even cans with no added sodium. With a little planning ahead, cheaper, sodium-free pulses will quickly replace the cans in your cupboard. Almost all pulses, save for lentils, require pre-soaking of at least 8 hours. A pre-soak not only rehydrates the pulse, but also neutralizes anti-nutrients, which can cause stomach upset and intestinal permeability. There are a variety of ways to prepare pulses — I’ve added a few of my favorite methods below:
Chickpeas: Sort out any undesirable chickpeas (dark, spotty, etc.) and rinse thoroughly. Place 1 cup of chickpeas at the bottom of a large pot with a 2-inch piece of kombu and cover with at least 4 inches of water. The kombu adds flavor and diminishes the gas-producing qualities of the peas/beans/lentils. Let soak at least 8 hours (overnight) but up to 12 (the older the bean, the longer the soak). Once rehydrated, discard the water and rinse the chickpeas several times before transferring to a large pot and covering with 4 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 90 minutes, or until tender. Drain excess water and allow to cool before storing. Chickpeas are the basis of most hummus recipes and can be roasted and added to soups or used to top salads. Mild beans and chickpeas are also a great addition to smoothies! Toss 1/4 cup of beans or chickpeas in your morning smoothie for an added protein boost.
Lentils: Lentils don’t require soaking, making them a great choice for last-minute meals. To prepare, sort and thoroughly rinse lentils in cold water. Place 1 cup of lentils in a pot with 2 cups of water and a 2″ piece of kombu. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce heat and allow to simmer until water is absorbed and lentils are tender (you may need to add more water as needed). Lentils can be added to salads, used to make veggie burger patties, or added to dips and soups.
Split peas: Split peas can be prepared in the same manner as lentils, with a strip of kombu added to reduce the gas-producing properties and add flavor. Split peas can be added to soups, salads, or blended into dips.
Read on for more ideas on how to use pulses, below!
Berry Chickpea Smoothie Bowl
1 banana, cut into chunks and frozen
1 cup frozen dark berries
1/4 cup cooked chickpeas
Handful dark greens (kale, chard, or spinach)
1/4 cup liquid (almond milk, kefir, water, coconut milk, etc.)
Add-ins: 2 tsp acai powder, 1/2 tsp maca and/or lucuma powder, 1 tbsp soaked chia seeds, 1 tsp flaxmeal
Toppings: Blackberries, kiwi, mango, unsweetened shredded coconut
Combine banana, berries, chickpeas, greens and liquid (+ any additional ingredients) in a high-speed blender or food processor and blend until combined. Add more liquid as needed to reach desired consistency. Top with blackberries, mango, kiwi and shredded coconut. Enjoy!
Yellow Split Pea Garlic Dip
(Makes 1 bowl)
1 cup cooked yellow split peas
1/2 red onion, chopped + sautéed in coconut oil until soft
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp curry powder
Splash of water
Sesame seeds + pumpkin seeds to top
Combine all ingredients (except sesame and pumpkin seeds) in a food processor and blend until combined, adding more olive oil or water if needed to reach desired consistency (it should look like hummus).
Place sesame seeds in the bottom of a dry skillet and heat on medium until toasted, about five minutes.
Scoop dip into a bowl and top with toasted sesame seeds and raw pumpkin seeds. Serve with black sesame rice crackers or fresh vegetable sticks.
Mediterranean Lentil Salad
1/2 cup cooked French green lentils
3/4 cup grape tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 avocado, cut into large chunks
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt & pepper, to taste
Fresh mixed greens
Combine lentils, tomatoes, garlic, onion, avocado, feta and parsley in a medium bowl and mix together. Whisk together lemon and olive oil and drizzle over the feta mixture, and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place a handful of mixed greens in a salad bowl and add a scoop of the lentil mixture. Top with more avocado and serve. Enjoy!
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