21st century pulse

Categories: Expert guidance

To celebrate the International Year of Pulses, author and UN pulse ambassador Jenny Chandler explores these nutritional powerhouses and shares her tips on how best to prepare them

At last I’ve been given the excuse to shout about one of my all-time favourite ingredients: 2016 has been designated the International Year of Pulses by the United Nations Food and Farming Organisation.

Pulses are being recognised as an incredibly important ingredient in the future of humankind. We are expanding dramatically in every sense. The ever-increasing global population demands more sustainable sources of protein, while obesity has become a worldwide epidemic that must address. Over the next few months I’ll explore just how the humble pulse could help to solve so many of our 21st century issues—from saving the planet, to watching both your budget and your waistline.

Pulses are edible seeds grown in pods and are, more often than not, dried.

We Brits fell out of love with our local peas and beans for centuries, turning to cereals and potatoes for our carbs. For years legumes were deemed to be the realm of vegetarians and vegans who appreciated them as a great source of protein. Thankfully, in recent times, our curiosity and love for foreign flavours has begun to sow the seeds of change, but pulses do continue to be seriously under-utilised in the British kitchen.

Versatile and truly delicious
Having written the cookbook Pulse a couple of years ago, I feel that my key role in the Year of Pulses is to champion legumes as one of the most versatile and truly delicious things you can cook. The fact that these highly nutritious edible seeds could help save both us and the planet is just a bonus, because I absolutely love to eat them.

My approach to enjoying legumes could be described by that slightly irritating, but rather useful, term ‘flexitarian’. I make countless tasty vegetarian dishes that are both economical and versatile, allowing me to snap up the best seasonal produce in the Market or to use up the last bits languishing in the bottom of the fridge. Once in a while I cook up a meat or fish fest too, and my pulses do both the wonderful job of soaking up all the succulent juices and also making an indulgent treat go that little bit further, because they’re so filling and satisfying.

Today’s recipe could be served as a vegetarian dish with piles of winter kale, stir fried brussels sprouts or purple sprouting and an extra dollop of crème fraîche. I can’t wait to serve my lentils alongside some freshly cooked ham hocks or perhaps a bit of belly pork with some really crunchy crackling. While you could use any type of oranges at all, it’s sometimes worth waiting for a specific ingredient and Seville oranges, with their bitter juice and aromatic zest, are just the ticket here.

Prepare from scratch
I’m starting out with a lentil dish since many people imagine that all legumes take an age to prepare from scratch, and these will usually be ready in under 30 minutes. Home prepared lentils cost considerably less than ready cooked and there are so many great varieties to try.

Read Jenny’s recipe for Seville orange lentils