Pulses are the dried, edible seed of a legume, such as chickpeas, beans, peas and lentils. They are an ancient and very nutritious food that's trendy right now.
Several restaurants feature them on their regular and special menus. For example, in Victoria, burger place Bin 4 offers a chickpea-and-black-bean burger with curry aioli, Brasserie L'Ã©cole features duck confit with red wine lentils and Devour restaurant offers lamb stew with white beans and eggplant.
New cookbooks such as Spilling the Beans, by Canadians Sue Duncan and Julie Van Rosendaal, are inspiring people to cook pulses at home.
That's good news for Canadian farmers. According to the Pulse Canada website, pulsecanada.com, many parts of the country are ideally suited for growing pulses. More than 2.3 million hectares are seeded to pulse crops each year, and long summer days and suitable soil conditions in places such as the Prairies and Ontario and Quebec provide a natural production advantage.
If you're not eating a lot of pulses, here is a guide and some recipes to get you started. For other tips, recipes and nutritional facts, go to the Pulse Canada website.
Note: In last week's column, I wrote about lentils. For those recipes, visit my blog at timescolonist.com. Where and how to buy Pulses are sold dried, in bags or bulk, or cooked and canned. You can find pulses in health, ethnic and specialty food stores, bulk food stores and supermarkets. In supermarkets, bags of dry pulses, such as peas, beans and lentils, are usually sold in the canned-soup section. When buying dry pulses, look for ones that are uniform in size, full-looking, chip-free, smooth-skinned and bright-coloured.
How to store and examine dry pulses
Store dry pulses in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark, dry place. It's best to use pulses within a year of purchasing, although they will keep longer. The longer a pulse is stored, the drier it becomes, which, in turn, increases the cooking time. If they take forever to cook, they are well past their prime. Before using, examine dry pulses and discard any damaged or shrivelled ones and any debris, such as pebbles or twigs.
To soak or not to soak
According to Pulse Canada, dry lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked. However, dry beans, whole peas and chickpeas must be soaked because their skins do not readily absorb water.
For every one cup of those types of dry pulses, add three or more cups of water. Whole peas can be soaked for 1 to 2 hours. Beans and whole chickpeas require a minimum of 4 hours, but preferably a soak of 8 hours or overnight. Pulse Canada says after soaking, always put the pulses into a strainer and rinse them well. The rinsing will, apparently, wash away some of the carbohydrates and sugars that cause gas.
Cooking dried pulses
Pulses, depending on the type, will double or triple in size once cooked, so keep that in mind when choosing your cooking vessel. When they're cooked in water, foam will often rise to the surface. To help prevent that, Pulse Canada says to add one teaspoon of oil to the cooking water. Because acids slow the cooking process, vinegar or another acidic ingredient should not be introduced until after the pulses are tender. Excess salt can also extend cooking time. Don't rapidly cook pulses, or they'll begin to fall apart on the outside before the middle is cooked.
Using canned pulses
Before using canned pulses such as beans or lentils, I like to drain them in a fine strainer, rinse them with cold water, then drain them well again. This cleanses them of the salted liquid they were canned in. One 19-ounce (540 mL) can of pulses, such as kidney beans or chickpeas, when drained and rinsed, will yield about 1 3/4 cups. One 14-ounce can (398 mL) will contain about 1 1/2 cups. email@example.com
Eric Akis is the author of the bestselling Everyone Can Cook series of cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
THAI CHICKPEA AND VEGETABLE CURRY
The curry paste used in this recipe is sold in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets. The one tablespoon I used will make the curry mildly spicy. If you like things spicier, add more.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced on the bias
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp green Thai curry paste
1 (400 mL can) coconut milk
3/4 cup vegetable stock mixed with 1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp golden brown sugar
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 (19 oz.) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed in cold water, and drained well again (see Eric's options)
16 small cauliflower florets
1/2 cup frozen peas
salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, basil or mint
Place the oil in a large, deep skillet or wide pot set over medium to mediumhigh heat. Add the onion, carrot, bell pepper, ginger and garlic and cook three to four minutes, until slightly softened. Add the curry paste and cook and stir one to two minutes more. Mix in the coconut milk, stock and cornstarch mixture, brown sugar, lime juice, cauliflower and chickpeas. Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer until cauliflower is tender, about 5 minutes. Mix in the peas and cilantro, basil or mint and heat through a minute or two. Thin curry with a bit more stock if too thick. Taste and season curry with salt, if needed, and then serve.
Eric's options: To use dry chickpeas in this recipe, place 2/3 cup in a bowl with 4 cups cold water. Let soak at room temperature eight hours or overnight. Drain well, rinse, in cold water, then place in a pot with four cups of fresh, cold water. Simmer until just tender. Drain and they are ready to use.
BEAN, CHERRY TOMATO AND AVOCADO SALSA
Serve this bean-rich twist on salsa with tortilla chips.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: None
Makes: About 12 (1/4 cup) servings
1 tsp finely grated lime zest
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 large, ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into small cubes
1 (19 oz.) can black beans, drained, rinsed in cold water, and drained well again (see Eric's options)
8 cherry tomatoes, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow or white onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, or to taste
salt to taste
Place the lime zest and juice in a medium bowl.
Add the avocado and toss to coat. Add the remaining ingredients and gently mix to combine. Cover and refrigerate salsa until needed. (Can be made an hour or two before needed.) When ready to serve, spoon into a decorative bowl and serve with tortilla chips.
Eric's options: To use dry black beans in this recipe, place 2/3 cup in a bowl with 4 cups cold water. Let soak at room temperature eight hours or overnight. Drain well, rinse in cold water, then place in a pot with four cups of fresh, cold water.
Simmer beans until just tender, drain, cool to room temperature and they are ready to use.
BLACK BEAN BROWNIES
This recipe is from the best-selling new book Spilling the Beans (Whitecap Books). Authors Sue Duncan and Julie Van Rosendaal say these brownies are the real deal. They say nobody has ever detected the merest hint of a bean in these, nor given a damn once told. Use good-quality chocolate; you'll be happy you did.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 28 to 30 minutes
Makes: 16 brownies
1 cup rinsed and drained canned black beans
1 1/4 cups pecan pieces (optional)
1/2 cup butter
2 oz (60 grams) unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup good-quality chocolate chips, or a 3 1/2 oz (100 gram) bar of good quality bittersweet or semi-sweet dark chocolate, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the rinsed black beans on a double thickness of paper towel and blot them gently to remove as much moisture as possible.
Leave them uncovered on the counter until later.
Spread the pecan pieces (if using) on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant and lightly browned, about six to seven minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a small saucepan set over very low heat, melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate, taking care not to let the mixture scorch. Whisk to combine, then remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and salt together and set aside.
Place the dried-off beans and cooled butter/chocolate mixture in the bowl of a food processor and process until very smooth, scraping down the bowl once or twice.
Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla; process again until combined. Scrape the mixture into the flour mixture and fold gently, leaving streaks of flour still visible. Add the pecans and chocolate chips and fold to just combine.
Pour the batter into a lightly buttered (or sprayed, with non-stick cooking spray) eight-inch square pan, and smooth the top. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes: the batter should no longer jiggle when the pan moves, but any toothpick inserted would be very chocolatey. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
The brownies will need to cool a while, unless you want to eat them with a spoon directly from the pan (we've done it). Otherwise, cut them when they've cooled and store in the refrigerator if you like a dense texture, or at room temperature if you like them softer.
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