March 4, 2020
Most of us are familiar with beans — they’re a staple in cuisines around the world — but the term pulses is less familiar. The word “pulse” is used to describe the dried edible seeds of a legume, such as lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas, all of which are high in protein, fibre and iron and low in fat, inexpensive and shelf stable, whether you buy them canned or dried. They’re the ultimate healthy convenience food.
Not only are they good for you, they’re good for the environment — legumes require less energy to grow than other crops, and so produce fewer greenhouse gasses. The plants also fix the nitrogen in the soil, making it beneficial for crop rotations.
Whether you incorporate them into soups, stews, grainy salads or pureed dips, they provide a nutrient-dense energy boost that’s slow to digest, keeping you functioning and feeling fuller longer.
Canned lentils, beans and chickpeas are easy to use — just drain, rinse (if you like) and go. But here are a few cooking tips if you're new to cooking dried pulses.
- lentils cook quickly, with no need to pre-soak; boil French lentils for 30-40 minutes, or until tender; split red lentils will cook in about 10, and take on flavours well, so you can add a handful to soups, stews, curries, sloppy Joes, and the like.
- you can jumpstart the hydration process by soaking other dry beans and chickpeas overnight in plenty of water, but you don’t have to—if you cook them from dry, they will take about the same time, or slightly longer, and you’ll have a more flavourful stock.
- salt your cooking water; an old myth suggests this will keep beans from softening, but it’s not true - salting beans as they cook will season them from within.
- the slow cooker and Instant Pot are great tools for cooking dry beans.
- add herbs and aromatics, like a garlic clove and bay leaf, as they simmer for a more flavourful pot.
- acidity can keep them from softening; if you’re having trouble, add a pinch of baking soda to your cooking water.
- if you cook a large batch of beans, cool and freeze them in their cooking liquid to protect against freezer burn.
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