Beans, lentils, and other grain legumes are slated for a big year in 2016.
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed it to be the “International Year of Pulses.” Pulses, also known as legumes, are a group of crops that includes dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils.
This year, scientists worldwide will be investigating how pulses can help address global health and environmental challenges. Pulses are high in protein, fiber, and various vitamins, increase absorption of key nutrients, and are hearty crops. They also improve environmental sustainability by feeding soil microbes and benefiting soil health. As a steady source of nutrition, feed for animals, and soil sustainability, pulse crops play a major role in food security, a role which will only grow in the future.
Pulses are most popular in developing countries, but are increasingly becoming recognized as an excellent part of a healthy diet throughout the world. If you have not done so already, now is the time to get more familiar with the wide world of versatile, delicious, nutritious pulses.
Buying & Storing
Dry pulses are quite inexpensive and are found in most grocery stores. Especially good are stores with a busy bulk section where the turnover is high, and you can find a wide selection. Look for pulses that are uniformly sized, brightly colored, and with smooth skins without chips or shriveled seed coats.
Dry pulses are best stored in glass, and can keep years if stored in tightly covered containers in a cool, dark, dry place. The longer a pulse is stored, the drier it becomes, which increases its cooking time. Canned pulses are very convenient because they are pre-cooked and ready to use. Always drain and rinse canned beans before use.
Sorting & Soaking
Dry beans, whole peas, and chickpeas can be soaked before cooking to reduce cooking time, and remove chemicals that can cause gas and bloating. Split peas and lentils do not require soaking, only rinsing, before cooking.
Before soaking or cooking, remove shriveled or broken pieces as well as foreign matter like dirt or pebbles. Then place pulses in a sieve and rinse under cold, running water.
Adding salt to the tap water prevents the magnesium and calcium in mineral-rich, hard water from binding to the cell walls, and it will also displace some of the minerals that occur naturally in the skins. Three tablespoons of salt per gallon of soaking water is enough to guarantee soft skins.
Always discard the soaking water before cooking.
Cooking Dry Pulses
Pulses can be cooked on the stove top, in a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or the oven. Regardless of the method used, wait to add acidic ingredients such as tomatoes and vinegar only when the pulses are already tender, as acids slow down the cooking process. However, seasonings such as garlic, onion, and herbs may be added to the cooking water right from the beginning.
Some recipes suggest adding baking soda to help soften pulses. This is not recommended as baking soda destroys thiamin, and may make the pulses too soft.
Stove Top Cooking
- Combine pre-soaked pulses with water (5 mL or 1 tsp of oil to prevent foaming) and seasonings in a heavy saucepan.
- Use a large enough saucepan, as pulses double or triple in volume during cooking.
- Bring to a boil, cover tightly, reduce heat, and simmer until they are just tender.
- Simmer pulses slowly as cooking too fast can break the seed coats.
- Cooking times will vary with the type and age of the pulses, as well as with altitude and the hardness of the water.
- Tasting is the best way to check if pulses are done.
- Cooked pulses are tender, have no “raw” taste, and crush easily in your mouth.250 mL (1 cup) of dry pulses will yield approximately 500 to 750 mL (2-3 cups) or 2-3 times the original amount when cooked.
Cooking Beans 101