Have You Taken Your Nutritional Pulse?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
The edible seeds of legumes like dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils are called pulses, a name derived from the Latin word puls which means thick soup or potage. Pulses are very popular in Mexican, Middle Eastern, or East Indian cuisine and provide a low fat protein source, dietary fiber, and essential nutrients. They are unique among grain crops because they put nitrogen back into the soil, which produces fewer greenhouse gases, and take less energy to grow, which provides an environmentally friendly crop.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1.7 billion pounds of dry peas and 590 million pounds of lentils were produced in our country last year with North Dakota and Montana serving as top producing states. Surprisingly, two-thirds or more of these crops were exported to drought-ridden areas of the world such as India, South Asia and Turkey.

Fortunately, tight budgets and an increased focus on healthier eating here at home have also provided a wonderful opportunity to influence interest in legumes and vegetables. A new association between the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council and the US Dry Bean Council called the American Pulse Association (APA) has been created with the hopes of significantly increasing national consumption of pulses over the next five years.

How much do you know about them?

While the more traditional uses of these products is in soups and stews, the APA hopes to study milling, extrusion, extraction and cooking properties of pulse to find alternative uses. The hope is that pulse flours can be used in baked goods, noodles and snacks instead of wheat flours for those that require gluten free diets. Likewise, they have interest in extracted protein opportunities for meat analogues and extenders and egg replacements for those following a vegan diet.

When purchasing dry pulses, select seeds that are bright in color, uniform in size with smooth skins and with a coat that is free of chips or shrivels. They can be stored for a long period as long as they are stored in an airtight container and kept in a cool, dark, dry location. It is best to use them within one year of purchase since they dry out over time, which causes an increase in cooking time. Dry lentils and split peas do not require soaking before cooking and only need rinsed before use. Dry beans, whole peas, and chickpeas must be soaked before cooking because their skins do not absorb water and the water must enter via the end, which was attached to the plant stem.

If time is on your side, you can let pulses soak overnight or for about 12 hours in the refrigerator. If you need a quicker soaking option, place pulses in water on the stovetop, bring to a boil and allow them to boil gently for two minutes before removing from the heat, covering, and letting stand for about one hour. If you need an even quicker soaking option, combine pulses and water in a microwave safe glass casserole dish, cover and microwave on high for 10-15 minutes and then let stand for one hour before use. Be sure to discard the water after soaking and to rinse the pulses well under cold water before cooking to reduce the gas-producing components responsible for flatulence and for improved digestibility.

Canned pulses provide convenient, pre-cooked, and ready to eat healthy options as well, just be sure to rinse and drain them before use. Canned pulses should be stored in a cool, dry place for up to one year. When cooking pulses it is important to remember that they will double or triple in size. You can add one teaspoon of oil to pulse cooking water to prevent foaming during cooking and seasonings such as garlic, onion and herbs enhance flavors. Since acids slow the cooking process, be sure to add acidic ingredients such as tomatoes or vinegar after pulses are tender. Beans naturally contain a toxin called phytohemagglutinin, which is destroyed by cooking them adequately. Cooking time for dry pulses will vary but typically beans, whole peas, and chickpeas require 1-2 hours while lentils and split peas only require 30-45 minutes. If you are going to use them in a slow cooker recipe, be sure to boil them in fresh water for 10-12 minutes before adding to your crock-pot recipe. Cooked pulses can be frozen for up to six months so to save time, cook a large patch and then freeze in one to two cup portions.

How often do you eat pulses? What is your favorite recipe?