Article

On the pulse

Categories: Expert guidance

Jenny Chandler dreams up a legume-based feast to celebrate World Pulse Day

What will you be up to on Sunday 10th February? Hopefully tucking into a bowl of superbly delicious pulses, as the United Nations has designated the date as the first World Pulse Day.

We’re talking lentils, chickpeas, dried peas, beans—essentially all edible seeds that grow within a pod. And what have these humble ingredients done to deserve United Nations fanfare? It’s quite a challenge not to appear evangelical on the subject, so let’s stick with just a few of their benefits.

First, pulses are an extremely economical source of great protein and are packed with the fibre that so many of us lack in our diets. We all need carbs for energy, and their complex carbohydrates are slow to digest, reducing blood sugar highs while keeping you full and satisfied for hours. Just 80g nutrient-packed cooked pulses is considered to clock up one of your five-a-day, if you’re counting.

There’s good news on the planet front, too. These miraculous plants actually enrich the soil as they grow, require less water than most crops, and are incredibly hardy, offering the adaptability required in marginal agricultural areas—not to mention matching up to the challenges of looming climate change.

As a cook, the most exciting thing has to be that they are so very good to eat and extraordinarily versatile. So, what to eat on World Pulse Day? While a three-course pulse-athon may seem a little bit much, you can dip in and out of my menu as you like—or make the legume element merely a taster in the starter and the pud, as I plan to do.

Pea pancaked with fermented beetroot and blood orange

Starter
We will be kicking off with fried pea pancakes topped with fermented beetroot and blood orange. You could always slip in a bit of hummus for good measure, too. Making pancakes with pulse flour is a doddle—100g flour such as chickpea (aka gram), pea or fava bean flour mixed up with 200ml water will give you a very loose batter. You can add whatever herbs or spices you like to the mix, then leave it to rest for about 1 hour. Heat up a frying pan with a little oil (I like to use rapeseed) and fry spoonfuls of the batter until bubbling on the surface. Flip them over and continue frying until browned. Hey presto—mini pancakes. Ideal vehicles for nibbles or starters.

Main
I’m inviting a few friends over, so a dish that requires little attention, feeds a crowd without breaking the bank and lives up to the sustainable theme of the day is ideal. It’s extraordinary how far, alongside some flavourful pulses, a shoulder of fabulous British lamb can stretch. Don’t be tempted to go for the leg: the more economical shoulder has all the fat required for melt-in-the-mouth meat and oh-so creamy beans. This is a feast when served up with peppers, olives and a wonderfully green and zingy Middle Eastern zhoug sauce. You’ll have plenty of beans to keep any vegetarians happy, too, and the flavours work like a dream with roasted aubergines.

Pudding
A pulse-ating pudding is certainly unusual but I urge you to try making a sweet dal, perfumed with cardamom and topped with buttered cashews. The traditional Indian recipe uses mung dal (hulled, split mung beans) giving a velvety smooth texture, but you could give it a go with red lentils for a non-authentic, slightly coarser version. In northern India the sweet dal tends to be cooked with milk; I prefer the southern version with a splash of coconut milk. Having already devoured two courses of legumes, I’ll be serving just a dollop of dal alongside some seasonal fruit—rhubarb probably—and keeping the rest for breakfast. Oh yes, sweet dal for breakfast, do give it a go. You’ll be joining another legume love-in, the week-long British Dal Festival kicks off this weekend too.