Friday, February 23, 2018

Food For Thought: Beans, Peas and Lentils ~ 'Pulses' of Good Health

Since we shared a whole bunch of wonderful recipes last week in celebration of the Crock Pot, this week we are going to just have a discussion about an ingredient: Pulses.

Now, I'd never heard of this group of food called 'pulses' before but, essentially a pulse is any edible seed that grows within a pod. In this category, we have beans, peas and lentils.

These wonder foods are high in protein, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Not only that but they are versatile enough to be used as a main dish, transformed into something totally different (like burgers) and, of course, as a yummy side dish. I think it's important for everyone to add pulses to their diet, however, they should be one of the main focuses for vegetarians out there who aren't getting protein from meat.

We are going to focus more on the dried version today rather than the canned. Yes, it is a bit more work to start prepping them from dry, but you have to be a bit more careful with the canned ones in that you could have extra salt, additives or preservatives you just don't need.

Usually, they should be soaked overnight, then boiled for about 10 minutes or so to get rid of any toxins. The following is certainly not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most common, easiest to find and with the highest protein contents. We have almost all of these in our pantry (they make a wicked chili!!).

Beans and Split Peas
Black-eyed beans: aka 'black-eyed peas' these are the only beans that don't need to be soaked!
Lima beans: aka 'butter beans' are super in soups because of their smooth, subtle, buttery texture.
Chickpeas: These are my personal favorite. They have a wonderful nutty flavor and are great in Indian cuisine and, of course, hummus.
Navy beans: These are the little small, white ones and are great in stews, chili, and dishes requiring long simmer time because they absorb all the spices, herbs and other goodness really well.
Kidney beans: These can be red or white. The nutritional components of each are pretty much the same. The only real difference I found was that the red seem to be better for Mexican or Indian cuisine or for chili because they are hardier. The white ones seem a bit milder and although you can still add white ones to the same dishes, I find that you can even add them to lighter dishes, such as salads.
Green and yellow split peas: Again, these are terrific in soups and I've even found a great recipe for making burger with them.

Lentils
Brown and green: These are both wonderful in soups, stews and hardier dishes as they don't seem to disintegrate into the liquids as much as other beans or lentils do. If you want a strong punch in your dish, the green ones have a stronger flavor.
Red: These are the most used in vegetarian cooking as they are easy to cook.

Tofu
This is a soy bean curd that you can find in most grocery stores now. It is available in various textures from soft to firm and can be used in both sweet or savory dishes. It is very popular in Asian and vegetarian meals. Watch out for some of the naturally sweetened versions which can be eaten straight as a pudding-like treat or added to a smoothie.

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