Celebrating pulses

Did you know that today, 10th February is World Pulses Day? And why not, as pulses — beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils – are awesome for so many reasons and play a key role in a whole-food plant-based diet.

But why have they been designated their own special day? As with most international or national ‘days’, it’s really a campaign to increase awareness of the importance of pulses in our global food system. And for us as humans, the impact of climate change, growing populations and food scarcity and security, finding a sustainable food source that provides excellent nutrition and minimal environmental impact is key to our future survival on this planet. And pulses may just be the answer.So what difference can pulses make?

Firstly, they are good for health. And in a world where chronic health problems are on a massive increase, that’s a major factor. Research shows that pulses can contribute towards reducing health problems like heart disease and obesity, a major issue in countries that have an excess of food products but malnutrition (ie: getting too much of the bulk nutrients, not enough of essential micronutrients). Equally, they are great for those populations that still suffer from food scarcity and undernutrition. Because beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas are packed full of wonderful nutrients ranging from plant-base proteins to tiny rainbow phytonutrients. This infographic explains more.

As well as being good for us, they’re also good for the environment. They enrich the soil they grow in, reducing the need for harsh chemicals and fertilisers, which is better for the local ecosystem and waterways. They grow in harsh environments, areas of the world where many things won’t grow, a plus for remote populations. And they also have the lowest carbon footprint of any food group, requiring fewer natural resources. For example, approximately 1800 gallons of water is needed to produce 1lb of meat, whereas only 43 gallons are needed to produce 1lb of pulses. That’s a huge difference.

There are so many different ways to use pulses in every day meals, ranging from super snacks like hummus and falafels, to curries, savoury bakes and even bread. Here are links to some of my favourite recipes where beans, lentils, peas or chickpeas are the star.

If you want to know more about pulses and World Pulses Day, have a look at their website https://pulses.org/what-are-pulses – there’s some fascinating information on there.

So on World Pulses Day, are you going to celebrate with a special dish? Do let me know what you choose to eat!

Warm mashed beans with lemon and thyme

One of the many wonderful things about eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that it’s a constant voyage of discovery. Wherever I am, there are always new ingredients to try out, or local recipes to adapt. Some experiments are a success, others not so much. It’s definitely not dull, that’s for sure.

Some of the tastiest ideas come from necessity rather than choice. Todays recipe is the perfect example; we needed lunch but there was only a random mix of bits and bobs left in the fridge. Fortunately, one of those things was a tub of fresh borlotti beans bought at the market the previous weekend, cooked and waiting for inspiration.

I’m over in our new house in Portugal at the moment. One of the many things I love about this area is the local fruit and vegetable market held in the local town square every morning. It’s everything you could want from a farmers market – small, local producers selling fresh seasonal products direct to the buyer. There’s colour fruit and vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds as well as fresh bread and the odd jam or chutney. This photo is of me waiting patiently at my favourite tomato stall. The elderly lady you can see is the mother of the chap who grows this amazing crop at his farm just down the road to my house. It really is local produce!

Some stalls sell freshly podded beans. And I mean fresh – you can watch them do it, nimble fingers with many years experience popping out beans at quite a speed. This fresh means they are packed with many more nutrients than anything that’s tinned or dried.  I bought a huge bag for just €3 which made four different meals – cost effective as well as super healthy.

This mashed bean recipe has been floating round my head for a while. It’s super simple but amazingly tasty, although it’s not the prettiest one to look at! But ugly ducklings can bloom into something wonderful, so don’t be put off by its appearance. With the thyme, garlic and lemon juice, it’s like a Mediterranean version of recooked beans, super tasty and rather moreish.

Lunchtime can be a bit of challenge at times when eating plant-based. I’m often asked for lunchbox ideas, anything that’s not hummus. Not that there’s anything wrong with hummus! It’s just good to have a change. Although this recipe is served warm here, it can be enjoyed just as much cold as a sandwich or wrap filling with some crunchy vegetables and an extra pinch of salt.

If you don’t have access to fresh borlotti beans, don’t worry, tinned will work. Rinse them well first then pop them in the pan with everything else. If you are using fresh, pre-cook them in a little vegetable stock before mashing together will the herbs and lemon to make sure they are soft and creamy. If you can’t find borlotti beans, use cannelloni or even flageolet instead.

I served these crushed beans with a spinach and tomato salad and a couple of slices of homemade sourdough bread. Fresh, simple and delicious. If you make these, let me know how it goes, and how you ate it too. Enjoy!

Warm mashed beans with lemon and thyme (serves 3-4)
400g fresh or tinned borlotti beans
2 fat cloves garlic finely chopped
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
juice 1 lemon
salt and pepper
flaxseed or extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives or parsley to garnish

Place the beans and the garlic in a small pan along with 4 tablespoons of water. Heat gently stirring regularly to stop the garlic from burning. Add the thyme. When the garlic releases its aroma, carefully mash the beans until they are all broken down but with some texture. Turn off the heat, pour in the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and pour in a good glug of flaxseed or extra virgin olive oil. Taste and add more seasoning if needed. Finally garnish with the chives and serve.

Smoky Bonfire night baked beans

It’s Bonfire Night tomorrow, an evening of fireworks, sparkles, chilly feet and warming comfort food. Thinking about it, it seems a strange event to mark each year in our increasingly secular multicultural society – a day to commemorate the failure to blow up Parliament, a plot devised by Catholics against Protestants. Remarkably, it was actually illegal NOT to celebrate Bonfire Night up until 1959!

No matter what the historical background is, many of us still celebrate the events of 5th November in our own way. Now that my kids are pretty much independent, there’s no real excuse to set off our own fireworks, but I do love watching everyone’s displays. Although, after having been in India during Diwali, our fireworks are more damp squibs than the thunderous assault of noise and colour you experience there!

Bonfire night makes me think of food – thick comforting soup and piping hot baked potatoes always spring to mind, as do Boston beans. Traditionally made with fatty pork rind and thick molasses, my husband’s best friend made these beans for a couple of Bonfire nights we celebrated together in our early 20’s (along with lots of alcohol I seem to remember!). Deep smoky, rich flavours mixed with hearty beans, they were perfect for a cold winters night spent in the garden with colourful explosives.

Beans are of course a fantastic source of protein, fibre and micronutrients, and a staple in any diet, plant based or otherwise. Research has found they can help reduce the onset of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and that if more were included in everyone’s diet it would have a big impact on long term health.

So as it’s that time of year, I’ve made my own smoky baked beans, similar to Boston beans but of course plant based and animal free. Packed full of deep smoky flavours, you can make this on the cooker top, in the oven or in a slow cooker if you have one to hand. And if you have time, make it the day before so the flavours have a chance to develop. Serve on top of a crunchy skin baked potato with a good dollop of dairy free sour cream, this will keep you so warm and snuggly whilst you partake in our slightly odd historical celebration and enjoy the fireworks

Smoky beans stuffed potato

Smoky baked beans
400g tin of beans (flageolet are good)
1 small onion
1 large clove of garlic
500g carton of passata
1 heaped teaspoon smoked paprika
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon red chilli powder
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
salt and pepper
coconut amines or tamari
If you are baking in the oven, pre-heat to 150ºC and use an oven proof pan like Le Crueset if you have it. If you are using a slow cooker, prepare in a saucepan and transfer to the pot at the oven stage of the recipe.
Finely dice the onion and garlic clove. Heat the pan and add a little olive oil or water, then sauté the onion until it starts to soften. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute, making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Pour in the passata and stir in the spices, coconut sugar and vinegar and stir well to combine. Fill the passata carton with water and add to the pan. Stir in the beans then add salt and pepper plus tamari or coconut amines to taste (this provides a deep, umami flavour). Put the lid on the pan.
If you are using a slow cooker, pour the mix into the bowl, put on the lid and leave to cook for 6 -8 hours.
If you are cooking in the oven, now is the time to pop it in. If you are cooking on the hob, turn down the heat and simmer. For both the oven and hob, stir after an hour and add more water if it’s drying out. Do the same after 2 hours and check the flavour – your beans will be ready after about 2 1/2 hours. If you are making in advance, leave to cool then reheat gently.
Serve on pipping hot baked potatoes. Enjoy!

Odds and end smoky tomato and parsnip stew

Last day of the veg box blogging challenge, and I have to say, the ingredients on offer look rather forlorn! Tuesday evening tends to be my ‘creative’ night, using up as much produce as possible. It always makes me think of the Goodness Gracious Me character Mrs’ I can make it at home for
nothing’. All she needed was a small aubergine and piece of string to create anything. Sometimes I feel like that!

So what was left? We had one onion, a large parsnip and a handful of chard leaves. Doesn’t look much to start with, but thankfully I have a well stocked store cupboard.

Random ingredients like this usually work well in a one pot stew, adding in herbs and spices to jazz things up a bit. My go-to spice in these situations is smoked paprika – as my daughter wisely states, everything tastes better with a little smoked paprika!

We always have tins of beans in the cupboard; a great plant based source of protein, minerals, B vitamins and fibre, beans give texture and substance to a dish, and can fill up the hungriest of stomachs. And because of their high fibre content, they’re really healthy, particularly good for reducing cholesterol and maintaining blood sugar levels. Adding the tomatoes brightens everything up, as well as adding another load of phytonutrients.

I used pinto beans for this dish for their texture and colour. Random fact – these beans have brown speckles, like splashes of colour in a painting. Pinto means ‘painted’ in Spanish, hence the name. May come in handy one day in a quiz, you never know.

So here it is, my odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew. Served with some mixed quinoa, it has a protein punch and a little spicy kick to make it interesting. And no string in sight!

Odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew.
1 onion, diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
2 small potatoes, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 small celery sticks, chopped
handful of chard, washed and chopped
2 handfuls frozen peas
1 tin pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 teaspoon thyme
black pepper
Heat a dash of olive oil in the bottom of a pan and sauté the onion, potato, celery and parsnip for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and chard stems and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and add the spices and herbs. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the parsnip is soft. Stir in the beans and peas, and season with black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes, check the seasoning and add more if needed. Enjoy!

Stew or soup – beans and kale do the job.

Having spent the last three autumns away from the UK in India, I had forgotten how suddenly the weather can change – even in the same day! We’ve had some beautiful sunny days recently, the low sunlight magnifying the stunning autumn hues. Vivid red, yellow and deep orange leaves have created a spectacular view. But now the temperature has suddenly dropped, and so have the leaves, almost overnight, the last few clinging on to stripped branches battling the bitter northern wind.

When it’s cold outside, it seems only natural to turn to comforting food to warm us up on the inside. This kale and bean soup is perfect for a cold November day; warm and tasty, it’s packed full of nutrients that really do feed the soul!

Kale is being hailed as the latest wonder food, and with good reason. Yet another one of those miracle-working cruciferous vegetables, it’s packed full of vitamin A and C, provides good amounts of calcium, iron, manganese and potassium, has a wide range of phyto-nutrients such as carotenoids, flavonoids and lutein, and a hefty dose of fibre. So basically, it’s really good for you! All these anti-oxidants help protect the body from a range of health problems. Kale also contains excellent amounts of tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. Tryptophan is essential for the formation of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that affects mood – so kale can make you feel good on so many fronts, and help battle those winter blues.

However, kale is not perfect for everyone and some people need to exercise caution. Kale also contain whopping amounts of vitamin K – this is involved in clotting and potentially could cause problems for people who take anti-coagulants such as warfrin. Kale also contains oxalates. Some people with kidney or gall bladder problems may have difficulty breaking it down and may lead to other health problems. But I guess it’s a question of how much you eat of it!

Kale does have pretty tough cell walls, so it needs a good chopping to get the nutrients going.
The other star in this dish – cannellini (or navy if you’re in the States) beans – are also wonderfully good for you, and brilliant for this kind of dish as they hold their form even when cooked for a long time and don’t go really mushy, although they do mash easily if you want a creamy texture. Low in fat, high in fibre, magnesium and B vitamins, these wholesome white beans are a brilliant ingredient to have in your store cupboard.

I first made this dish as a soup, adding in some cooked black rice afterwards to make it a mega hearty lunch. This worked so well, I realised dropping the fluid content would also make a wonderful creamy stew. I love finding a dairy free alternative for creaminess! The tomatoes give a fabulous contrasting texture, so don’t miss them out. The squeeze of lemon juice at the end it to help make the iron content more absorbable, but leave it out if it’s not your thing.

I served this as a stew on a bed of wholegrain rice, but a couple of chunks of beautifully crusty wholemeal bread would mop up the juices a treat! Maybe I need to make some soda bread to get a yeast free bread accompaniment…..
Autumn was made for dishes like this!!!

Cannellini bean and kale soup/stew
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
150g raw kale, washed and well chopped
1 courgette chopped
up to 500mls vegetable stock
1 400g tin of cannellini beans, well rinsed
2 fresh tomatoes cut into 8’s
1 teaspoon Italian herb seasoning
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil and sauté the onion until its soft. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so but don’t let it brown. Add the kale and sauté until it’s wilted slightly – a few minutes. Add the courgette and sauté for a minute. Now add 2/3rd of the beans, the tomatoes, herbs and seasoning and stir well.  This is the point you need to decide if you are having a soup or stew. For soup, pour in 350mls of the stock, for stew about 200 mls – enough to nearly cover the veg and beans. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Place the remaining cannellini beans and a good dash of the stock in a blender and blitz until smooth. Stir this mixture into the simmering pan – this thickens the sauce and gives it a creamy texture. Continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, adding in more stock if you need it.
Just before serving, squeeze in the lemon juice if you are using it, then ladle into a large bowl and feel hugged and warm from the inside!

Eat your greens – they really are so good for you!

Remember growing up and being told to eat your greens? That they would make you grow big and strong? Well, it’s true! In fact, there’s been some research that shows that cruciferous vegetables contain unique sulphur containing compounds that convert to isothiocyanates (thankfully shortened to ITC!!), phytochemicals that have immune boosting, anti-cancer effects.

Cruciferous vegetables, so called because their flowers have 4 equally spaced petals that form a cross shape, include kale, cabbage, collard or spring greens, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips, broccoli and watercress. The sulphur containing compounds are kept in the cell walls – this is what gives these veg a slightly pungent, bitter flavour. Clever scientists have discovered a complex chemical process which is triggered when these veg are chopped or chewed; the sulphurous compounds are released and mix with an enzyme forming the wonderfully dynamic ITCs.

So what do ITC’s do? Apparently there are 120, all different with different actions; combined together they have been found to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune boosting and anti-cancer, removing carcinogens and killing cancer cells. Broccoli, for example, can stop cancerous changes that occur within the cell, protecting it from DNA damage. Cruciferous veg fuels the bodies natural protective processes, turning on its internal defences. One study found that a 20% increase in green veg lead to a 40% decrease in cancer rates* – pretty good stuff!

Apart from fighting against cancer, these veg stimulate the immune system to help protect against viruses and bacterial infections, helps the cells to process toxins and waste, help prevent heart disease and generally reduces the general effects of ageing. No wonder we are told they are good for us!!
The enzyme that’s required to form ITCs is destroyed by heat, but ITCs themselves are not, so cruciferous vegetables are best chopped and blended first and either eaten raw (in a juice for example) or added chopped or pureed into stews, soups etc. Alternatively, veg like cabbage or broccoli  can be lightly steamed to keep as many goodies active as possible.

Of course, the veg also contain an array of other nutrients such as vitamin B, C, magnesium, iron, calcium, fibre – the list goes on! So they really are an amazing powerhouse of goodness. All these goodies aid the body to detox and heal, so great for overcoming food intolerances and allergies as well as other chronic diseases. When I was in India I had massive cravings for green vegetables, and even stir fried cauliflower leaves to satisfy them. Eating a minimum of 2 portions of cruciferous veg a day is recommended which is pretty easy if you have access to a wide variety of produce, not so easy if it means eating cabbage every day!! Mind you, there are lots of ways to eat cabbage….. And in the days things that shouldn’t be eaten, isn’t it great to have something we can eat more of!

A bag of Swiss Chard turned up in my veg box last week, one type of cruciferous veg. Chard has a deep, earthy flavour and works well with garlic, tomato and lemon. So I threw together this dish and it tasted rather wonderful – a hearty, warming weekday supper.

Swiss Chard and white bean stew(ish)
300g (or so) swiss chard, wash and roughly chopped
1 onion sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil or veg stock
2-3 cloves garlic chopped
1 tomato sliced
1 400g tin cannelloni or flageolet beans rinsed and drained
lemon juice
salt and pepper
Heat the oil or veg stock (if you’re wanting a fat free dish) in a pan and fry the onion on a low heat until it’s soft. Add the garlic for a minute, stirring so it doesn’t burn. Throw in the swiss chard, adding a little more veg stock if necessary, and cook for a few minutes until it starts to soften. Add the tomato and then the beans, and cook for a couple more minutes. Turn off the heat, add lemon juice and seasoning to taste and serve with mash or warm bread (or toasted flat bread if you’re yeast intolerant). Simple, healthy and delicious, all in one!!

* Michaud, D et al (1999). Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of bladder cancer in a male prospective cohort. J Nat. Cancer Institute 91(7).