Take your pulse. Not that pulse. I'm talking lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas. The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.
That's something we can celebrate here on the Canadian prairies, where we grow more pulses than most places on earth.
But we don't eat them, not nearly enough. Almost all our pulse crops are shipped to other countries where lentils, chickpeas and split peas are everyday fare. Tonight in India, families will sit down to a meal of masoor dal. In Spain, they’ll enjoy spicy lentejas con chorizo. And in Chile, they’ll fill up with a bowl of lentils de la Abuela, like grandma used to make. All with lentils from Canada.
Not only do we grow a lot of lentils (a record harvest of 2.2 million tonnes in 2015) we grow more varieties of lentils than anywhere else. In India, they prefer small red lentils. In Chile, it's large green lentils. And in Spain, it's pardina lentils also known as Spanish brown. We grow them all here, and more, such as little black beluga lentils, so named for their resemblance to the black caviar of the beluga sturgeon. Chefs love them.
Pulses are a good source of protein yet less stressful on the environment than raising livestock. Pulses provide 20-25 percent protein by weight, double that of wheat at 10 percent and about half that of meat at 30-40 percent.
However, growing pulses uses much less water than raising livestock. According to the UN, a kilogram of lentils requires 50 litres of water while a kilogram of chicken takes more than 4,000 litres and a kilogram of beef consumes a whopping 13,000 liters of water.
Pulses help reduce food waste, which the UN estimates at one-third of all food produced worldwide. Since pulses are a simple food and stored dry, there is little lost in processing and much less spoilage compared to vegetables, fruits and meat.
The UN also notes that pulse crops replace nitrogen in the soil, reducing the use of petro-chemical fertilizers. This is a prime reason why pulse crops are so popular in Western Canada – they make economic and environmental sense when included in rotation with other crops such as wheat, flax and canola.
Pulses fit with another UN initiative: eliminating world hunger by 2030 while, at the same time, tackling climate change and improving sustainable farming. If we all start eating more pulses in 2016, that goal will be easier to reach.
Of course, I don't need to recommend more hummus and lentil soup. We've got that covered. But, I will propose this recipe for yellow pea fava, a Greek mezze (appetizer) made with yellow split peas. If you like hummus, you'll like this.
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups finely chopped red onion
1 fat clove garlic, finely chopped
4+ cups water
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Put split peas, 1 1/2 cups red onion, garlic and 4 cups of water into a medium pot. The water should cover the peas. Bring to a gentle boil. Skim the foam that rises to the surface.
Reduce heat, cover pot and gently simmer for 1.5-2 hours, until the split peas are completely broken down. Check periodically, adding more water if needed to just cover the peas.
Once the peas are fall-apart soft, cook uncovered until the liquid has evaporated and the peas are thick and bubbly. Stir frequently to prevent sticking to the pot.
Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice and 3/4 cup olive oil. Stir vigorously until well mixed. Cover pot with a tea towel and leave to cool.
To serve, scoop pea purée into a serving dish. Top with remaining 1/2 cup red onion. Sprinkle with parsley. Drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Serve with bread, pita or crackers.
The UN website includes many more pulse recipes from around the world.
(This article first appeared in Grainews.)