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!

Original kedgeree

Every now and then my husband gets the urge to have a session in the kitchen. Apart from the inevitable mess, I love it when he’s inspired to try out something different – not only does it give me the night off, but it’s usually something he’s been thinking about for a while and researched within an inch of it’s life. Big contrast to my sudden inspiration, throwing things together to see what happens approach!

He’s been mainly plant based for over a year and a half now which is quite a surprise to both of us! Having gone for it, he’s quite happy not to go back eating to meat and dairy for now as it stops him from pigging out on pastries and burgers. There are a few things he misses though (thankfully beer is plant based). Oddly, one is kedgeree, something we rarely ate but obviously on his list of ‘foods I love’. So he decided to get researching to make a completely plant based version.

It didn’t take him long to discover the original version of kedgeree – kichiri, a simple Indian comfort food, traditionally given to those under the weather. Legend has it that kedgeree, which includes milk, fish and egg, was devised by Colonial Brits in India, then brought back to England, although according to Wikipedia, there is some contention that it appeared in Scotland in the 1700’s; the India connection remains intact though. When exactly a fish, rice and egg combo became a breakfast dish, I’m not so sure.

Kichiri is the perfectly balanced plant based dish. A mixture of rice, lentils and some super spices, it’s tasty, satisfying and remarkably moreish despite the simplicity. The lentils give it a little bit of texture and it’s aromatic rather than spiciness, so gentler on the palate.

Rice and lentils create the perfect plant based protein – both these lovelies contain the full range of essential amino acids. Even though it’s one of the top arguments detractors will come up with when you decide to go plant based, there’s no fear about missing out on protein as long as you eat a wide range of products. And of course wholegrain is best as more nutrients are retained. And lentils give you much more than just protein – they also have a wonderful dollop of fibre, manganese, iron and B vitamins amongst others.

A cucumber raita completes this dish perfectly – using dairy free yoghurt of course! You could get flashy and add make a little spicy tempering to go on the top – toasted cumin and mustard seeds with a couple of dried red chillis and some fresh curry leaves to finish. Lovely.

So why not give this a go and see what you think – is definitely different to kedgeree but still comfortably familiar!

Kichiri (serves 4)
160g green lentils
270g wholegrain basmati rice
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 onion, diced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of salt
1 litre water
couple of handfuls fresh coriander
Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the cumin and black mustard seeds until they start to pop. Add the onion and ginger and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring so it doesn’t burn. Add the carrot and red pepper and cook for another minute or so, then add the garlic, rice and lentils as well as the ground coriander, turmeric and salt and cook on a low heat stirring all the time. After a minute or so, carefully pour in the water, bring to the boil and pop on the lid. Turn the heat down low and cook for 15-20 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the lentils are tender. Turn off the heat, and leave to steam for a couple of minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle fresh coriander over the top to serve. Enjoy!

Dal or lentil – it’s a name thing

Before I came to India, I thought lentils were either red, puy and occasionally green, and that dal was a soupy kind of spicy dish. Then I went shopping in the local supermarket and discovered a whole array of “dal” with different names, some of those being the same product but hailing from a different part of India and called by the local name.

Just to make it even more confusing, whole lentils tend to be called “gram”, a generic name for pulses, so includes chickpeas and other dried peas I hadn’t come across before – cow pea and horse gram, both of which are really tasty (I have a great little easy cow pea dish I’ll share with you soon). Once the pulse is split, and it’s outer coating shed, the gram becomes a dal, or a lentil, in the right form for cooking dal. Confused? Me too!

I’ve worked out there are four main ‘dals’:
yellow dal: or yellow split peas as I knew them in the UK, or toor/tuvar dal in Hindi. This is split pigeon pea and used most commonly for your standard dal

mung dal which comes from the mung bean, a pale green lentil that has a real earthy look to it. Mung beans are a deep green when whole but paler and flecked with white when split

masoor dal, or red split lentils, the one I am most familiar with

urad dal, which comes from black gram, but is white when split. This is most common in South India and usually soaked and ground to make dosas and idlis, iconic breakfast items.

Whatever the name or colour, dals are really healthy, a tiny powerhouse of nutritious goodies, packed with protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and a whole array of B vitamins. Dal is made up of 20-30% protein, better than most meat products but without the saturated fat and cholesterol. It is not, however, a complete protein in the same way as meat. Pulses are low in the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) methionine and cysteine. So they should be eaten with another food which is high in these missing amino acids. Traditionally, dal is eaten with rice or some form of bread – chapati, roti etc. Whole rice and whole wheat are high in both methionine and cysteine, but low in lysine, another essential amino acid. Pulses just happen to be teaming with lysine and so dal and rice or chapati is the perfect dish!

Due to their high dietary fibre content, dal/lentils are very good for your bowels, but do have a reputation for creating rather a lot of wind – urad dal is the worst offender apparently, and mung the least and is often given to convalescents as it’s easy on the digestion.  I always buy organic dals which are really widely available here, and only a few rupees more than the non-organic version.

The key to a good tasty dal is the tempering – the seeds and spices that are fried separately and then added at the end. If you want a low fat dish, go easy on the oil otherwise it will become loaded with fat. Ghee is often used for the tempering, which gives it a distinctive flavour but is pretty high in fat. Theoretically, ghee is non-dairy, but I’m not convinced so avoid using it at home. I’ve tried various different recipes since I’ve been in India, some more successful than others (dal and the pressure cooker just don’t seem to work for me!). This is my favourite – big fat juicy tomatoes are the key to this dish!

Dal fry/Tarka Dal
1 cup of red split lentils, rinsed well and drained
1 finely chopped onion
2 x juicy tomatoes
1 -2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 tsp tumeric
salt
(lemon juice)
For the tempering:
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1-2 dried red chilli or 1 fresh green chilli
2 inch piece ginger, julienned
pinch of hing (asafoetida)
handful curry leaves
fresh coriander for garnishing
First, heat a couple of tablespoons of water in a pan and fry the onion and salt for a few minutes then add the garlic and keep stirring until it’s lightly brown. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add the lentils and turmeric, heat through and add 3 cups (ish) of water – if you want a thicker dal, add less than 3. Cook on a low heat for 20-25 minutes until the lentils are soft and mushy. In a separate pan, heat the cumin and mustard seeds. Once they start to pop, add all the other ingredients except the coriander and cook for a few minutes. Tip the tempering into the cooked lentils, mix together and simmer for a couple of minutes, adding a squeeze of lemon juice to help make the proteins more available, garnish with the coriander and serve with cooked brown rice or some whole wheat chapatis.