2016 is The Year of the Pulse.
The United Nations General Assembly has declared it a year to focus on raising awareness of the health benefits of pulses and their importance to sustainable agriculture.
So what exactly is a pulse?
Pulses are a sub-category of legumes.
Legumes are plants whose seeds are enclosed in a pod. It’s a huge category of plant life, with over 13,000 species.
Clover, lupines, fresh peas, and peanuts are well-known examples of legumes.
Pulses are legumes of which only the dried seeds are eaten.
Chickpeas, lentils, black beans and dried split peas are just a few of many varieties available.
What’s so great about pulses?
They are very nutritious.
Pulses are nutritional powerhouses.
They are excellent sources of protein, fiber, folate, iron and other minerals like potassium, magnesium and zinc. They are also particularly good sources of the B vitamins folate, thiamin and niacin.
A 3/4 cup serving will provide an abundant source of nutrients with almost no fat.
They are affordable.
Cost is another factor that pulses have in their favor. Even with price recent increases, they are a much cheaper source of protein than meat.
According to Statistics Canada, the average price of a kilogram of ground beef in 2015 was $12.86 CAN. A 1.8 kilogram bag of red lentils can be bought at a major Canadian supermarket for less than $3, and provides many more servings than a pound of ground.
They play an important role in sustainable agriculture.
Finally, pulses are good for the soil.
Unlike most other plants, legumes are nitrogen fixers. This means they can – with the help of bacteria in the soil that targets their roots – draw nitrogen from the air into the root system.
When the plant’s growth cycle is finished and it decomposes, that essential element is released into the soil and held there for other plants to access.
Thoughtful crop rotation incorporating pulses can contribute to more sustainable agricultural practices by reducing dependence on chemical nitrogen fertilizers.
How do you cook pulses?
Cooking pulses is easy.
Some benefit from soaking before cooking. The dried beans will absorb water while soaking and then soften more quickly during cooking. Depending on the variety, soaked beans will need to simmer for 1-2 hours.
Lentils and split peas do not need to soak, and will cook in 30 to 60 minutes.
All pulses will double (or more) when cooked and many can be ground into flour, giving them even more versatility.
This free downloadable cookbook from Pulse Canada contains a very thorough guide with everything you need to know about preparing a full range of pulses. It has over two dozen excellent (mostly meatless) recipes to get you started.
And you are not limited to evening meals: you can incorporate lentils, chickpeas and other beans into your menu planning at any time of day.
Check these websites for more Meatless Monday inspiration during this Year of the Pulse: