Spotlight on Pulses: A Superfood Before its Time

Pulses, a source of nutritional meals throughout the world, are getting special recognition this year. The United Nations has designated 2016 as the “International Year of Pulses,” highlighting not only their nutritional benefits but also their role in sustainable food production, food security, nutrition, and reducing the environmental impact of food production.

Part of the legume family, pulses are grown and harvested solely for their dry edible seeds. Dried beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils are the most commonly known pulses, all of which are high in protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals such as zinc and iron. Legumes that are harvested green, such as green beans and green peas, are not considered pulses (though are equally tasty).

Pulses have been a part of traditional diets for centuries not only for their high nutritional value, but also for their low impact on the environment and long shelf life. Often grown by small farmers in regions such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America, pulses can be stored for months without losing their nutritional value, increasing food availability between harvests.

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Additionally, pulses can contribute to sustainable agricultural production. The Food and Agriculture Organization’s fact sheet on pulses highlights that these crops are more water efficient compared to other protein sources. Just 13 gallons of water are needed to produce 2.2 pounds of split peas or lentils compared to 1,142 gallons for the same amount of chicken, and 3,434 gallons for the same amount of beef. Due to their unique nitrogen fixing properties, pulses can also improve soil fertility, reduce the need for fertilizer, and extend farmland productivity. Crop residues from grain legumes can also be used as animal fodder, further reducing waste.

In addition to being nutritious and good for the environment, pulses are also delicious! Baked beans, split pea soup, daal, falafel, and chili are just a few examples of pulse-based meals you have undoubtedly eaten and enjoyed.

Pulses figure prominently in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a living catalog of distinctive foods that are in danger of disappearing. Identifying and championing these foods keeps them in production and on our plates. In the mid-Atlantic region, pulses such as the Cherokee Trail of Tears Bean, the True Red Cranberry Bean, and the Turkey Craw Bean have been identified as having specific historic or cultural importance.

You can search Local Harvest’s website to find local producers of these ingredients, and many more included in the Ark of Taste. More information about the UN’s “International Year of Pulses” can be found on the Food and Agriculture Organization’s website.

Below are a few ideas to whet your appetite for incorporating more of this superfood into your diet.   Already have some favorite recipes using pulses? Let us know!

Lentil Salad with Radicchio and Almonds
Serves 4
Adapted from Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi

1 cup Puy Lentils
2 Bay Leaves
Scant 3 Tablespoons Honey
1/4 tsp Red Chile Flakes
1/2 tsp ground Turmeric
3 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
6 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 medium head Radicchio
2 oounces Pecorino
1 cup toasted almonds
2/3 cup Basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 1/3 cups Dill leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt and Black Pepper

Place the lentils in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, add the bay leaves, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until tender.  Drain well and return to the pan.

Whisk together the vinegar, half the oil, the honey, the chile flakes, the turmeric, 3/4 tsp salt, and some black pepper until the honey dissolves.  Stir into the lentils while they are still hot, then leave to cool down a little, discarding the bay leaves.

To cook the radicchio, pour the remaining oil into a sauté pan and place over high heat.  Cut the radicchio into 8 wedges and place the wedges in the hot oil.  Cook them for about 1 minute on each side and transfer to a large bowl.

Add the lentils, almonds, pecorino, and herbs to the bowl.  Stir gently and serve warmish or at room temperature.

Hummus
Makes about 2 cups

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (or roughly 2 cups drained, cooked chickpeas)
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons tahini
1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon), plus more to taste
1 small clove of garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Drain canned or stovetop cooked chickpeas into a strainer and rinse under cool running water. If you have the time and patience, pinch the skins from each of the chickpeas to make a smoother hummus.

Combine the chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process the hummus until it becomes very smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to integrate any large chunks.

Taste. If using any of the variation ingredients, add those now and process again. If your hummus is stiffer than you’d like, add more lemon juice or olive oil to make the hummus creamier.

Scrape the hummus into a bowl and serve with pita chips or raw vegetables.

Hummus will also keep for up to a week in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Variations – your imagination is your only limit here!

  • Add 1 to 3 teaspoons of spices for more flavor, such as cumin, sumac, harissa, smoked paprika, or zatar.
  • For a roasted vegetable hummus, blend in 1 cup of roasted vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, or garlic.
  • For an olive hummus, fold in 3/4 cup of chopped green or black olives.
  • Drizzle a little pomegranate molasses or sprinkle a pinch of sumac on top.

 

 

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