Pulses: good for the palate, good for the heartbeat

E_coverThe 68th UN General Assembly recently coined 2016 as the International Year of Pulses (IYP) with the goal of increasing public awareness regarding food security and nutrition. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), this project was created to promote global production and make better use of crop rotations, as well as strengthen the pulse trade.

Pulses are the dry edible seeds of the legume group and include chickpeas, lentils, mung beans and more. With Vancouver’s expansive cultural array, there’s no shortage of legume recipes thanks to the city’s many ethnicities.

With the variety of pulses available at virtually every grocery store and on every menu, legumes are easy to incorporate into your everyday diet. They’re enjoyed not only as everyday granola bars and other convenient snacks, but also as appetizers, entrees and even dessert.

Legumes with a cultural kick

Defined as both a protein food group and vegetable food group item by the FAO, pulses possess an important commonality: the joining of cultures through healthy food.

One particular pulse dish has made its mark on Vancouver: lentil soup. With Middle Eastern roots, the lentil soup has been adapted to Canadian culture through experimentation based on personal

Madeleine Gwynne, who works at the Bambo cafe in Gastown, believes she has perfected the fine art of lentil soup, which is ordered so frequently it tends to run out. Gwynne says this healthy dish with Persian and Lebanese roots is the perfect addition to anyone looking for a dish with a strong cultural kick.

“Most of our customers showed up because friends recommended the lentil soup – it’s a favourite for people looking for an affordable and gluten-free dish,” says Gwynne. “Ours is an adaptation of [Iran]’s influence, using a garnish of balsamic vinegar and oil with a Mediterranean twist.”

Diverse dishes, common ingredients

Claudia Wong, originally from Panama, says another diverse legume dish that has found a home in Vancouver is pigeon peas
(known as guandu in Latin America). She refers to these pigeon peas as a favourite found all over the world, especially South America and the Caribbean – a sign she feels creates unity between all cultures.

“I came to Canada in 2002 and I didn’t realize at first how often I use pigeon peas in my diet. I’m from Panama, but guandu, the mixture of pigeon peas with other foods, comes from all over South America,” says Wong.

Wong believes guandu is the perfect dish to learn to make in 2016 due to its simplicity and versatility. She suggests mixing fresh or canned peas with white rice and coconut, fresh fish and even plantains.

“The dish works well with different food groups and it’s something that’s traveled the world,” Wong adds.

Beans for every meal

Lola Cruz, from the Philippines, cooks for families and friends of all cultures. She claims her Filipino cooking skills came to life after she touched down in Canada in 1976. Her main dish includes pulses she’s learned to prepare by heart, bringing guests of various ethnicities and languages into her home.

“Mung is made of little green beans and it’s one of the smallest. It’s not really spicy and it’s more like a Mexican bean, like lima beans. You boil it until it’s soft and mix it with tomatoes,” says Cruz.

Cruz says mung is a healthy, cheap, easy meal she learned to make by watching her mom make it; she serves it stand alone or with bacon puffs and pork rings, and claims the dish is always a hit with her guests.

Marcio Neitzke says his favourite pulse dish is spread amongst a rich cultural mosaic, similar to his own name. From Brazil, his family has carried on the tradition of feijoada, a meat stew with black beans.

Feijoada is a common staple- we cook it at home and eat it with everything. It’s really interesting to see how so many different people love it,” says Neitzke.

Neitzke gets the beans uncooked and prepares them in a pressure cooker. Influenced by his grandparents who eat beans for every single meal, Neitzke feels the protein, nutritional value and easy preparation of legumes offer variety and a cheaper alternative to meats.

A healthy pulse

Pulse Canada’s director of nutrition, Julianne Curran, says there is a science to pulses and that incorporating them into your diet not only provides a cultural twist, but also improves health.

“There are many easy ways to add more pulses to your diet,” says Curran. “The power of pulses is remarkable. They are a low fat, and low saturated fat, source of protein and contain high amounts of complex carbohydrates like fibre and resistant starch.”

For more information please visit: www.fao.org/pulses-2016/en