If you are looking for a tasty and versatile food, you should consider pulses. Pulses are a food group made up of the dried seeds of the legume family.
Unlike legume pods that are freshly harvested (such as beans, peas, peanuts and soybeans), pulses are harvested after they have dried within the pod. The dehydrated seeds are an inexpensive protein source you can store for years, making them a pantry staple.
Once cooked, pulses can be enjoyed in a host of ways, from sweet to savory. Whether they are braised, roasted, sprouted, or pureed, pulses are embraced by vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike for their nutrition, convenience and flavor. They are also gluten-free.
Pulse foods come in all shapes and sizes. They are often grouped into four categories - dry beans, dry peas, lentils and chickpeas. All are easy to prepare and packed with protein.
According to an article in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology, "A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes," eating patterns that emphasize whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and discourage most or all animal products have been associated with much lower rates of obesity, hypertension, hyper-lipidemia, cardiovascular mortality and cancer.
Pulse foods are rich in essential micro-nutrients such as folate, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc, as well as polyphenols. Polyphenols have been linked to a decrease in low-density lipoprotein, the "bad" cholesterol associated with diabetes, metabolic syndrome and ischemic heart disease.
They are high in fiber - both soluble and insoluble - which aid weight management by keeping us full longer and help us stay regular by aiding waste elimination.
"Pulse foods are not just good for your health. They also minimize your carbon footprint," writes Tami Hardeman in "Pulse Revolution." "It takes energy to produce food, and that energy generates greenhouse gas emissions. But pulses are more eco-friendly than other foods because they require no nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizer uses energy-intensive production processes and emits nitrous oxide, which has nearly 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide."
Pound for pound, pulses can feed more people than meat and require a fraction of the resources. Growing pulses also enriches the soil, improving crop yield, according to Hardeman.
"Pulse crops such as lentils and chickpeas are well-adapted to semi-arrid climates and are more drought-tolerate than other crops, so they require less water than other plants and livestock," she writes. "They also use water differently than other crops, drawing from the shallow depth of the soil and leaving the deeper-down water in place for the next year's growth. Producing one pound of pulses takes 43 gallons of water. Producing one pound of animal products require 1857 gallons of water for beef, 756 gallons of water for pork, and 469 gallons of water for chicken."
I was first introduced to pulses through the Daniel Fast 15 years ago. The Daniel Fast is a 10- to 21-day biblically motivated diet based on the book of Daniel. It advocates abstaining from foods that are unclean, as declared by God.
If you have ever read the Old Testament, you may be familiar with the story of Daniel in the lion's den.
The story, however, that introduces pulse foods takes place earlier in his life. Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel, and, as common at the time, he retained the most intelligent and talented of the royal houses to serve him in his court.
Everyone else was sent to toil in the mines or the quarries or the fields. Daniel was a royal favorite, as were his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Living at court meant Daniel was allowed a portion of the "king's meat."
There's no record of what that specifically was, but apparently Daniel felt that food was unworthy to consume and that it would "defile" him (Daniel 1:8).
Daniel proposed an experiment to his overseer Melzar: "Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenances of the children that eat the portion of the king's meat and as thous seest, deal with thy servants" (Daniel 1:12-13)
At the end of the 10 days, "Their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children who ate the king's meat" (Daniel 1:15).
Upon researching recipes prepared in Daniel's time, I found a variety of combinations, some of which may have been parched corn, grains, beans and legumes with nuts, fruits or vegetables added.
They were probably dehydrated, giving them a longer shelf life. However, I have also seen some cooked versions, such as in the Daniel Pulse.
The original recipe includes whole barley, which is not gluten-free.
Make a simple pulse snack with the dried fruits, nuts and seed combination. Hide pulses in recipes such as smoothies and desserts to get the added health benefits.
For a current selection of pulse recipes, I recommend "Pulse Revolution." Let me know what you think.
The Daniel Pulse Snack
Makes 12 balls
1 cup dates, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup prunes, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3/4 cups apricots, coarsely chopped in 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup cranberries, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3/4 cup almonds, coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3 tablespoons nut or seed butter
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
Combine all fruits in a large bowl and knead (you may want to use gloves, as it does get sticky). Once well mixed, add almonds and sesame seeds and knead again. Finally add the nut and seed butter and knead until thoroughly combined.
Store in refrigerator.
Note: Roll into balls or eat with a spoon. You can add this mix to your morning breakfast cereal. Add some soaked and sprouted lentils to the mix for extra protein. Use organic, unsulfured dried fruit sweetened with fruit juice, not sugar. Dried fruits concentrates its own natural sugar in the drying process.
The Daniel Pulse
12 ounces mixed dried beans (pinto, black and navy, usually about 1 1/2 cups)
12 ounces lentils and/or split peas
1 cup whole barley and/or wheat
1/2 cup millet, amaranth or quinoa
1 tablespoon whole mustard or 2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon coriander
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cups vegetable broth, optional sea salt
Toppings - chopped leeks, sliced olives, sautéed garlic, freshly chopped dill or mint, chopped nuts, chopped dates, fresh pomegranate, dried figs, or raisins.
Sort and presoak all grains and legumes the night (or at least 6 hours) before the meal preparation. Keep the legumes in one bowl and the grains in another. If using quinoa or amaranth, soak them in separate bowls. You can select a different variety of grains and legumes to your liking.
Rinse the contents of each bowl and place in a slow cooker or in a large soup pot - reserve the quinoa and amaranth, if using. Be sure to rinse the legumes and grains until the water runs clear and there are no bubbles (especially on the quinoa and amaranth).
Pour the broth over the beans and grains, if using.
Cover beans and grains in water and add a pinch or so of sea salt.
Cook on low heat until the beans and grains begin to soften. Cook times will vary. It normally takes several hours.
Add the mustard, turmeric, garlic, coriander, cumin and bay leaves. Feel free to alter the amounts to your taste. Salt at the end if needed.
Add the quinoa and amaranth, if using, and another cup of water or broth.
Simmer a half hour to an hour.
Stir occasionally and keep your eye on the moisture level. You may like the pulse a little on the dry side, or you may enjoy eating it more like soup. If you prefer it more like soup, keep your liquid level just above the pulse and simmer until the spices have mingled well and the pulse has reached the desired consistency.
Serve hot and top with chopped leeks, sliced olives, sauteed garlic, freshly chopped dill or mint, chopped nuts, chopped dates, fresh pomegranate, dried figs, or raisins.
Note: You can serve with rice or keep the barley or wheat on the side. Serve with Vegan Feta or purchase fresh feta, if you eat cheese.
Makes 2 cups
2 Cups of peeled almonds or pine nuts
1 Lemon juiced
½ teaspoon sea salt
Add your choice of herbs if you like (I like fresh parsley)
Remove the brown skin from the almonds by pouring hot (almost boiling) water over the almonds and then immediately pouring cold water over them in a colander. Peel the skins off immediately. (or purchase almonds already peeled)
Pulse all of the above in a food processor until the consistency is like feta cheese. Be careful not to make it too creamy or to add too much lemon juice.
Serve on top of the pulse mixture or on the side.