Over the last month, I have been learning about pulses and how to cook with them as part of the #3SkillsYEG challenge. Cooking with pulses seemed like a great topic for me given the suggested theme for February was “Personal Growth & Wellbeing” and that 2016 is the International Year of Pulses.
Learning about pulses
It just so happened that the Canadian Association of Foodservice Professionals (CAFP) and the Alberta Pulse Growers (APG) hosted a dinner early in the month called Everything is PULSEible. I was fortunate enough to attend with Sharon, who had been invited to blog about the dinner. It was a great way to both taste and learn more about pulses, though I suppose I didn’t realize just how familiar with them I already was. Here’s an excerpt from Sharon’s post:
“After reading Mark Bittman’s Food Matters more than five years ago (his mission was to encourage more conscious consumption of non-meat proteins), I was inspired to start including more beans and lentils in our diet. In 2011, Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan’s cookbook, Spilling the Beans, was released, becoming one of our go-to guides for meal inspirations. Now, pulses have just become a part of our regular rotation, both as a meat alternative but also to enhance soups, salads and mains, stretching the meal all while adding nutrients. At this point, our pantry and freezer would feel bare without having some variety of pulses on hand.”
She’s not kidding! Our meals often have beans and I guess I just didn’t think of them as pulses. So what exactly is a pulse? From Pulses.org:
“Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Pulses grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes 11 types of pulses: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes (not elsewhere specified – minor pulses that don’t fall into one of the other categories).”
Canada is one of the leading producers of pulses in the world. In 2011, Canada produced over a third of the world’s lentils and had the largest amount of dry pea production in tonnes. Saskatchewan is the largest pulse producing area in Canada with about 80% of the market, followed by Alberta at 20%, according to Statistics Canada. There are more than 2,300 farms growing pulses here in Alberta, which accounts for about 10% of the province’s crop acres. There’s good reason that the prairies are so good at producing pulses:
“The Canadian prairie soil and climate conditions, research for developing new varieties that resist lodging and disease or have a shorter growing season, agronomic and economic benefits when planted in rotation with other field crops and the growth of processing facilities all contributed.”
Unfortunately it’s not as easy as you might think to locate pulses grown here in Alberta because the packages most often end up with a “product of Canada” label. But as Sharon noted, “Alberta grows a variety of pulses: primarily peas (green, yellow, marrowfat), but also beans (great northern, black, cranberry, pink, small red), lentils (red, green) and chickpeas.”
Cooking with pulses
Pulses are very versatile ingredients and offer some excellent nutritional benefits. Pulses are gluten-free and vegetarian, low in fat and high in protein, and they’re a great source of folate and high in fibre. They’re also relatively cheap, especially when compared with meat. But despite all of those benefits, we don’t eat very many pulses. “A small amount is used by Canadian consumers and has increased over time, but is still relatively low compared to countries where pulses are a dietary staple,” wrote Statistics Canada. Many organizations are working to change that, including the Global Pulse Confederation and of course Alberta Pulse Growers here at home. One of the ways they’re doing that is by developing recipes that show just how easy it is to prepare dishes with pulses.
The most surprising dish to me at the Everything is PULSEible dinner was the dessert – Lentil Fudge Pie. “This fudge pie is so delicious, you’ll never guess there’s lentils in it!” They were right. It was very tasty and had I not been told, I’d have never guessed that it contained a red lentil purée. I’m not much of a baker, but I’d be willing to give this a shot.
For a variety of reasons, I ended up doing a lot of the cooking in February. I did my best to use plenty of pulses and I’m happy to report it wasn’t hard! I made dishes in which the recipe called for pulses, like Mushroom Lentil Bourguignon (from Spilling the Beans). I also made some dishes that I simply added pulses to, like Carrot, Spinach and Rice Stew which I added chickpeas to. One of the more interesting dishes I made again tonight so I could take some photos – Curried Lentil Soup.
The soup calls for both French green lentils (or dupuy lentils) and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). The lentils are easy to work with – simply rinse them and then add to the pot. I used stock instead of water, and they cooked nicely in about 30 minutes.
The chickpeas take a bit more work as you need to purée them into a butter. I added a can of chickpeas to the food processor along with the garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil and before long I had a nice buttery spread. The last step is to add the chickpea butter to the simmer soup and combine, which gives it a beautiful, rich consistency.
The soup is one of Sharon’s favorites, and I have to admit I’m quite fond of it myself. Easy to make, extremely tasty, and pretty healthy too!
Working as Sharon’s sous chef in the past, I don’t think I appreciated just how easy it is to add pulses to a dish. I have a better appreciation for them now, and am happy that our pantry is always stocked with beans and lentils!
Next steps with pulses
To help celebrate the International Year of Pulses, Pulse Canada has teamed up with the American Pulse Association to promote the Pulse Pledge:
“Commit to eating pulses once a week for 10 weeks and join a global food movement! Eating dry peas, lentils, beans and chickpeas helps reduce your carbon footprint – and it’s great for your health. Every 1/2 cup of cooked pulses delivers 9 grams of protein. Get rewarded for eating these miraculous superfoods.”
Pulses once a week? Piece of lentil cake!
I encourage you to give pulses a chance. And as a Learning Champion, I definitely encourage you to check out #3SkillsYEG! The theme for March is Creativity and Expression, and I have decided I will learn how to use my macro camera lens. That’s what I used to take the lentil and soup photos above! You can pick any skill you like, of course, the theme is just to get you going. Be sure to share your learning journey and enter the #3SkillsYEG contest.
I wish you tasty pulses and happy learning!