Did you know that the UN has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses?
What are pulses? If you’re not a follower of food blogs, which are currently exploding with posts on the subject, you might be asking yourself this question. Simply put, they are legumes that are harvested for drying – essentially beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is leading the education campaign with five messages:
- Pulses are highly nutritious.
- Pulses are economically accessible and contribute to food security at all levels.
- Pulses have important health benefits.
- Pulses foster sustainable agriculture and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
- Pulses promote biodiversity.
All these points are valid and important, but my contribution to the conversation is this: pulses are delicious, versatile, and varied. Adding them into your diet isn’t a ‘health food’ style punishment, but a route to more interesting meals.
I’ve been eating a partly vegetarian diet since I moved out of my parents’ home as a young student, believing that eating less meat benefits my health and the health of the planet. My partner has been completely vegan for over a year. So, pulses have always been a regular feature in our home. They’re great in meatless meals, but can be supporting players, too.
The use of pulses crosses cultures and cuisines, so there’s an infinite variety of recipes for you to explore. Pulses show up regularly on this blog, too, so I thought I’d share a few posts that include or link to some terrific recipes.
I’ll start out with one that most people are familiar with, chili. This is my mother’s Spicy Vegetable Chili, which is heart-healthy, easy, and delicious. It’s perfect for winter, too, as it relies on pantry staples and vegetables that are available year-round.
Orange-Scented Lentil Soup brightens the earthiness of lentils with orange and ginger. This soup is easy to put together and elegant. (There’s a link to the recipe in the post.)
My partner has celiac disease, so we’re often looking for meals that pack in nutrients and protein. This Tomatillo, Black Bean, and Amaranth Soup from Bob’s Red Mill Everyday Gluten-Free Cookbook more than fits the bill.
Lentils are the easiest of all the dry pulses to prepare. So easy that I’d never bother buying them canned (unlike beans and chickpeas). Once you have Dorie Greenspan‘s recipe for French Lentils, they’ll be as much a part of your weekly meals as potatoes or rice. These lentils are delicious as the focus of a meal or as a supporting player to all sorts of proteins. (There’s a link to the recipe in the post.)
And here’s one more soup, full of flavour and healthful ingredients, from Decolonize Your Diet. Abuelitas’ Lentil Soup is warming and filling, exactly what’s needed to get through the winter doldrums.
These recipes are just a starting point – they don’t even begin to touch the versatility of pulses. If you’re looking for more inspiration, here are some cookbooks to try:
River Cottage Veg, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Plenty and Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman
The ones I’ve listed are vegetarian cookbooks, but you shouldn’t count out other cookbooks – so many chefs and food writers make beautiful use of pulses. Made In India, by Meera Sodha is a great example and two of the recipes I linked to above come from Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan.
Look for news articles, food writing, and blog posts about pulses throughout 2016 – there’s sure to be plenty of creative and delicious recipes along the way. If you want to find out more about the International Year of Pulses, the FAO website is the best place to start. In Canada, the pulse industry is promoting IYP through their Pulse Canada website and there are similar efforts springing up worldwide.
I’d love to hear about your favourite ways to eat pulses (Split pea soup? Black bean brownies?) and I’ll be keeping an eye out for new favourites as the year progresses.