#LovePulses and take the pledge

Another informative post on an underutilized and versatile food source. Even if you don’t wish to take the pledge, please read! Look at the nutrition data. If you cook your own, the preparation  may take planning and time but it’s not labor intensive. Canned beans are an option to help use this food group.

one taste at a time

The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2016 the year of Pulses, which are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officially recognizes 11 specific types of pulses, but they can generally be encompassed in 4 groups: dry peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.

Referred to as “nutritious seeds for a sustainable future,” these superfoods pack an impressive nutritional punch. Not only are they loaded with protein, fiber, iron, potassium, folate, and antioxidants, but they’re also cholesterol, sodium, and gluten-free.

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Lamb leg steak–continued

lamb leg steak on plate with ratatouilleThat lamb leg steak that I cooked a couple days ago was a big steak–weighing in just a bit under a pound. That’s a lot of meat–couldn’t possibly eat all that at one time.  As vehement as I’ve been about not liking, or dealing well with leftovers,  that does not apply here.  I don’t really consider the part of this steak that I didn’t eat then as undesirable. I couldn’t have that luscious steak without some left for other uses–not when it needs to be at least an inch thick to cook well. You’re wondering what happens to the rest of this steak?

Often the remains of a beef steak or a pork chop goes into a sandwich–since roast beef, lamb, or pork is not on the single-serving menu. Other times it does some metamorphic changes.  The remainder of this steak went into the rice cooker with a convenience mix of grains,  some garbanzo beans to give me some additional meals that were not meat-centric.


  • about 1/2 pound of cooked lamb steak, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • one 15-ounce can garbanzo beans with liquid
  • one 10 ounce can of diced tomatoes with jalapeños with liquid
  • 1 cup of brown basmati rice, red rice, barley, and rye berry mixture (uncooked)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried Turkish oregano
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup water (to bring total liquid to amount required for grains)


  • Add all ingredients to rice/multi-cooker, stir well.
  • Set on rice cooking mode.
  • When cycle finishes, check grain for doneness.  If needed add more water in 1/2 cup increments until grains are done.


Since the lamb steak had been well-browned on the griddle, it provided good rich flavor for the grains and the garbanzo beans.  Some of this was an extra meal (with a side of ratatouille), and the rest was packed (with the Handi-Vac®) for the freezer for later (especially cooler weather) meals.

mixed grains with tomatoes and lamb

Lentil & couscous salad with cherry tomatoes, mint and goat cheese

As you can tell, I like lentils!  And tomatoes.

It’s getting to the kind of weather where I begin to think about “salads” for hot-weather meals.   I know it’s a bit early for this since tomatoes not  ready to pick yet.  While I was writing about lentils, shortly after planting some tomato seeds (Black Krim, Japanese Black Trifle, Black Pearl, Brandywine, Indigo…..) I couldn’t help but think of this salad with some anticipation as I planted the Black Pearl cherry tomato seeds.

Lentil & Couscous Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Mint and Goat Cheese

This is my adaptation of the recipe from Gourmet 1995, retrieved from Gourmet on Epicurious with a few changes from me.  (This is a great place to browse for salad inspirations.  You don’t need to follow the recipes–just look at the ingredients and make a salad.)


  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy (French green lentils) or brown lentils (or any small lentil that will hold its shape well)
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar  (The original recipe calls for white wine vinegar–but I prefer sherry; use what you have at hand.)
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (spearmint, rather than peppermint)
  • 1 bunch arugula, stems discarded and leaves washed well, spun dry, and chopped
  • 2 cups vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved.
  • 1/4 pound feta, crumbled (about 1 cup)


  • Cook the lentils in a small pan, covered by about 2 inches of water until tender but not getting mushy.  The lentilles du Puy cook more slowly than other varieties, so if you substitute, watch them carefully to keep from over-cooking them.  My preference is for the french, Spanish brown, or black lentils instead of the brown.
  • When tender, drain well and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Prepare the couscous:  bring water to a boil and couscous and salt (use the package directions).  Remove from heat and let stand until the water is absorbed.  Fluff and transfer to a bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil and cool.
  • Dressing:  Whisk together the garlic paste, remaining vinegar (to taste), and oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the lentils and dressing to the couscous and mix well. Chill well–about 2 or 3 hours.
  • Before serving, add the crumbled goat cheese and the mint leaves.

One problem I’ve found is that the cherry tomatoes can give off a lot of liquid and make this salad too juicy.  I like to toss the halved cherry tomatoes with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and let them stand in a colander for about 15 or 20 minutes before I add them  to avoid the excess juice.  This doesn’t make them “salty”–but do taste before you add the last salt to taste.  This will hold well in the fridge for about 24 hours if you’ve  gotten some of the excess liquid from the cherry tomatoes.

My favorite garnish for this is crispy slices of European style cucumbers and crispy, crunchy radishes on the side as well.

About lentils

lentils in Mason/Ball jar on pantry shelf.


Lentils (Lens culinaris), closely related to beans and peas, are dried after harvesting; you’ll find them on the shelves of your supermarket, gourmet stores, and online. They have been a staple food in many areas for over 8000 years, likely originating while in Turkey.  They are a staple food for many south Asian cultures, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean countries.  The Latin word for lentils, lens, was used in the 17th century to describe eye glasses because of the similarity in shape

Like other legumes, lentils are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly.  Lentils have a mild, often earthy flavor, which lets them pair well as side dishes, in salads, and soups.  Lentils have traditionally been used as a meat substitute.  Like other pulses, when paired with grains they offer excellent quality protein in our diet.

Before cooking, always rinse lentils and pick out stones and other debris–usually they are quite free of debris, but it’s always good to check them before cooking.  Unlike dried beans and peas, there’s no need to soak them. Lentils cook more slowly if they’re combined with salt or acidic ingredients, so add these last.  Bigger or older lentils take longer to cook.  Store dried lentils for up to a year in a cool, dry place. Substitutes: dal OR split peas OR black-eyed peas  More varieties are appearing even on the supermarket shelves, but specialty sources offer a wide variety with which to experiment.

The quick cooking and nutritious nature of lentils make them an obvious choice for winter soups. They are also good cooked and chilled for salads or mixed with bread crumbs to stuff vegetables. Blend lentils with middle eastern couscous and use as a bed for seafood and poultry.  Use them instead of beans  for summer salads with fresh tomatoes and other veggies.

Here is a little information about the various kinds of lentils.  More synonyms and alternative names can be found in the Cook’s Thesaurus.

  • Brown Lentils:  The average grocery store lentil is the brown lentil. You’ll likely find these on the shelves with the dried beans.  They tend to get mushy if overcooked.  If you want them to be firm, add oil to the cooking water and cook the lentils just a short while, say 15 minutes.
  • Black beluga lentils are a very popular legume in South Asia, they are used to make a beautiful black lentil soup. Some of the names that they my go by are Beluga lentil = black beluga lentil = beluga black lentil = petite beluga lentil. When they’re cooked, especially in salads with a tiny bit of oil, they glisten so that akes them look like beluga caviar.
  • Petite crimson lentils are “crimson” in color, which is a deep orange-red. These lentils tend to lose their shape when they are cooked and are an excellent choice for thickening soup.
  • Petite golden lentils are a small firm, golden lentil that is rounder in shape than many other  lentils; one of the reasons that this lentils holds its shape so well when cooked.  They have a soft texture.
  • Ivory white lentils are a creamy white colored small lentil that is really a peeled black lentils, known in India as urid dal.
  • French green lentils: (also called French green lentils, du Puy lentils,  lentilles du Puy, lentilles vertes du Puy.)  By many chefs, these are considered the “best”, most delicate lentils.  They have the typical earthy flavor, but also  are a bit “peppery”. These hold their shape well better than many other lentils,  but take longer to cook, but still do not need presoaking. While I love all lentils, and typically have several kinds in the pantry, these are the ones that I would not want to be without!)
  • Red lentils are the common seen in the supermarket.  It’s a lovely salmon pink in the dried form, but it turns golden when cooked.  These lentils cook faster than others.  They’re best in  purées or soups.
  • Spanish pardina lentils (also known as Spanish brown lentils or Continental lentils) are smaller the brown or red lentil–about the same size as a petite green or black lentil.  They have a particularly nutty flavor, and they hold their plump, round shape when cooked. This makes them a particular favorite with e for use in summer vegetable/lentil salads.
  • Dal is the Indian term for peas, beans, or lentils that have been split and often skinned, but the name is sometimes used for all lentils, peas, or beans, or to cooked dishes made with them. Split lentils don’t hold their shape well, so they’re often cooked into soups or purées.

Most of these can be interchanged in recipes as long as you take into account how quickly they cook and the final textures–some are softer than others. Generally the split ones tend to lose shape faster, so don’t do well for salads, or side dishes where you want them to keep their shape, but will be fine in soups–especially if you’d like your soup to be a little thicker.  Any of these would work in the lentil soup recipe that I gave earlier–though I usually use the lentils du Puy even for that.

Aside from using them instead of beans in summer salads, I think that lentils make an awesome side dish to go with grilled salmon–there’s something about the earthy flavor that combines SO well.  If you have “leftover” grilled salmon, try using it with some lentils to make a cool, but hearty summer salad with some tomatoes and cucumber to it.  Combined with a grain, this can be a very nutritious vegetarian dish–or not.

Here is a link to a lentil salad that makes me drool on my keyboard just looking at the recipe:  Warm Salad of Lentils with Duck Fat from the Hudson Valley.  Love’s description of the lentilles du Puy is marvelous.  (Each time I cook duck, I carefully keep some of the fat, sealed and refrigerated to use for things like this.)  Add some greens, and this is a one-dish meal that’s in my group of comfort foods.  Lentils will also work in the sausage, beans and greens one-dish meal.

Lots of uses, quick-cooking, nutritious, tasty, inexpensive…what more could you want?  Try some!

Cooking dried beans

We’re all aware that we should have more whole grains, beans, and legumes in our diet–we’ll talk about grains later, but let’s consider dried beans now.  They taste good, are good for you, and economical.

Beans are a pantry staple for me–both canned and dried.  The canned ones are mostly for “emergency” use.  It’s very easy to cook your own dried beans–especially if you use a slow cooker or put them in a slow over.  Either way, they are on their own without needing attention from you, other than checking them occasionally.

The advantages of cooking your own are multiple: the texture and flavor are likely going to be better than those coming out of a can; you can control seasoning (and the amount of salt), and you have so many more different heirloom beans with different flavors!  Yes, different flavors–not all beans taste alike–and even from the supermarket, you have a lot to from which to choose. If you find that you do like beans, then it’s worth a venture into a gourmet store, or online to find some the wonderful heirlooms that are available.

It does need a bit of planning.  First, you’ll need to sort them to remove any debris like small stones and broken beans–but that’s easily done if you just put the beans on a plate or a rimmed baking sheet.  Since dried beans do need to be rehydrated,  it’s best if you soak your beans overnight.   The quick-soaking methods are not recommended as they can affect the nutrition and the texture of your cooked beans. (Cook’s Illustrated, “Dried Beans 101). Once cooked you can freeze them so that you have a supply of cooked beans on hand when you need them.

Soaking in tap water can toughen them, depending on the mineral content of your tap water.  To avoid this, it’s best to soak them in brine; three (3) tablespoons of salt to each gallon of water will keep the tap water from toughening them, and even displace some of the minerals (calcium and magnesium) that occur naturally in the skins.

You want to cook beans at a gentle simmer so that they don’t break up or split open.  That’s easy with a slow cooker, or in the oven at a very low heat; an advantage of either of these methods is that they don’t require your attention–just a periodic check to see if they are done yet.  It’s an easy thing to do on the weekend when you want to have a lazy day.  In the slow cooker, they can cook while you’re away.

What seasonings you use will depend on what you’re planning to do with these beans.  If I’m cooking a large quantity to freeze some for various uses, I will likely keep the seasonings to a minimum–some onion, bay leaves–to have more flexibility in what I do with them later.   One caution, though:  it seems that most food scientists agree that adding acidic ingredients can keep dried beans from softening during cooking.  So you don’t want to add acidic things (like tomatoes) until the beans are tender.  If you see older recipes that suggest adding baking soda to the cooking water, I would give that a pass as the alkalinity can affect the nutrition.

Occasionally you’ll get a batch of beans that just don’t soften with cooking–that probably means that they are very old, so buy your dried beans where there is a good turnover and don’t let them linger on your pantry shelf for years–go ahead and cook them and freeze them.  I think that you’ll find that if you have them readily available you will use them.

Once you “get into” beans, you’ll find that there are so many wonderful varieties. For an introduction to some of them, take a look at The Cook’s Thesaurus.  Keep in mind that lentils and some “peas” don’t need soaking so may be substituted if you’ve not planned ahead.  Additional nutritional information and survey of some varieties of dried beans can be found at Fruit & Vegetable of the Month (CDC).

My pantry is almost never without canned beans either:  black beans, navy beans, cannellini beans, pinto beans, and garbanzo as the basics, but those are more for when I’ve not planned ahead or for emergency use.  There are huge differences in the taste and, particularly, the texture of canned beans, so you’ll want to explore using different brands for the “emergency” pantry stash. Some store brands (Harris Teeter) are fine for basic uses, but as the texture can vary, you need to buy according to the used–if I’m making a cold bean salad in the summer, I might want Goya, or Progresso instead.

Mind your peas and beans….

Main Entry: leg·ume    Pronunciation Guide
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural legumes \-ümz, -m\
Etymology: French légume, from Middle French, from Latin legumen, from legere to gather — more at LEGEND
1 a : the fruit or seed of a leguminous plant (as peas or beans) used for food b : a vegetable used for food — used chiefly in menus
2 : a leguminous plant; especially : one grown as a forage or green-manure crop (as clover, alfalfa)
3 : a dry dehiscent one-celled fruit developed from a simple superior ovary and usually dehiscing into two valves with the seeds attached to the ventral suture : POD — compare FRUIT 1d, LOMENT; see FRUIT illustration

“legume.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (17 Jul. 2011).


I brought up the subject of purple-hulled peas since they are seasonal.  Unless you are a native Southerner you likely don’t know about this vegetable.  I’m not–and it took me a lot of research to find out what I wanted to know about peas and beans, which is which, and what is what.

At the risk of being a bit didactic, let’s start with legumes, which are ancient foods–good sources of protein, carbohydrates and fiber.  We should all eat more of them!  A list of legumes would include  beans, peas, soybeans, peanuts and lentils.

For now, lets just talk about peas (Pisum sativum).  When I say peas, you probably think of “garden” peas–those lovely bright green vegetables that are harbingers of spring.  There are English peas (shelled as the pod is inedible) and the edible-pod peas (snow peas, sugar snap peas or mange-tout).  There are also “field peas”–which are really the form of  pea  that is grown to be dried (on the vine) and would include yellow and green split peas.

Beans include broad beans (Vicia faba) and the common or horticultural bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)–also in pods–again legumes.  When I say “bean”, you likely think of those green things meant when we say “green beans”, “snap beans” or “string” beans.   Then you might think of dried beans.  But did you think of “shell” beans?  Bet you didn’t–unless you’re a Southerner or unless you grew up on a farm where you grew your own food.

Those are all life stages of beans–first comes the pod which we eat as the “green bean”, This is an immature form–picked very young these can be haricots verts; a bit more mature and they are string or snap beans.  The shell bean is the mature, but not dried, bean.  If you leave the pod on the plant to dry in the field, then you have dried beans–black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, et cetera.  For more detailed information on many varieties of Phaseolus vulgaris see The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean (bibliography).

Then there are lima beans: Phaseolus limensis (large lima beans frequently Fordhook, Phaseolus lunatus which are small lima beans (also called sieva beans, baby lima beans among other names) which are believed to have first been domesticated in the new world.

So, what are crowder peas, purple-hull peas, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas? Those are subspecies of cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) sometimes called cowpea beans.   They do look more like beans than like peas, but pods are not edible as are the common (or horticultural) beans.   So these are really neither the common bean nor the peas we know as garden peas.  They are their “own thing”.

So who cares?  I just wanted to know–think of how you can make conversation at the next cocktail party!  The really important thing is that the legumes (lentils will come later) are an important source of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber for animals and we should use more of the as people food.

So, back to the questions that really started this:  how do you cook purple-hull peas?  You’re not going to find out by looking up purple-hull peas in the index of a cookbook.  Look for recipes for black-eyed peas or for fresh shell/shelled beans and you should be able to substitute you shelled purple-hull or black-eyed peas in those recipes.   I’d strongly recommend looking at a vegetable cookbook like The Victory Garden Cookbook.  (The information here has been gleaned from multiple sources, but is mainly from this cookbook).

Some guidelines for buying:  you can likely expect about 50% loss when you shell them–so if you have bought a pound of these in the shell, you will end up with about 1/2 pound shelled.

If you’re not going to cook them immediately after shelling, refrigerate in a zipper-lock bag with a very slightly damp paper towel to keep moisture even–it will soak up condensation or add a bit of moisture if needed.  I wouldn’t keep more than a week…the sooner you cook any vegetable after harvest the better.

  • You can blanch/boil/braisethem:  cover with water, add seaonings if desired, and simmer until tender or partially cook with minimal seasonings andthen finish with additional seasonings or ingredients with another cooking method.  For small beans/peas like these it may take no longer than 5 to 10 minutes to be tender, but they do keep their shape well even with longer cooking times. The braising is really just cooking in water at a gentle simmer, using a minimal amount of water so you’ll need to keep an eye on them to see that they don’t dry out/burn/scorch.
  • you can steam them:  cooking time will be about the same as for blanching–about 5-10 minutes. (Theoretically, you can cook them in the microwave, but I’ve not ever been satisfied with how they turn out if cooked in the microwave, so I’m leaving that out.)

purple-hull peas in steamer

Once they are cooked, you can add some “finishing touches”.  If you cook them without much seasoning, you may be able to use them in a number of different ways.

  • after boiling or blanching, add some butter, salt and pepper to taste, and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice.
  • you can add cream and reduce it to a thicker sauce.
  • bake with a Béchamel/velouté sauce, topped with cheese, until bubbly.
  • add olive oil and herbs…e.g. savory which is sometimes known as the “bean” herb, dill, or sage, or other favorite.  Let stand for a bit to allow herbs and oil to meld with the beans.
  • you can add them to cooked snap/string/green beans, or other green veggies.
  • use cold or at room temperature with tomatoes to make a “bean salad”….
  • you can add them to rice.  Remember that the combination of legumes and grains does provide good quality, complete proteins.
  • then there’s “hoppin’ john”–Here’s a link to Emeril Legasse’s recipe.  If you’re a Southerner, you probably have a variation of this.  I’m not–but this one looks pretty good to me.

They are versatile–and underappreciated veggies.  My personal favorite for hot summer weather is to use them at room temperature for a “salad”.  Here’s a rough guide to making this dish.

  • steam beans/peas until tender–about 5-15 minutes.
  • While the beans/peas are steaming, dice some sweet onion, halve or quarter
  • some cherry tomatoes, or dice large tomatoes, and place in a bowl.
  • take enough extra-virgin olive oil to lightly coat the veggies and the beans (about 1 tablespoon per pound of beans) to a small skillet over very low heat and add crushed or very finely minced garlic and herbs of choice (savory, oregano, mint, ….) and allow to infuse for about 10 to 15 minutes; you don’t want the garlic to brown–so keep the heat very low–you just want the oil infused well with the flavors of the seasoning.  Or  heat the oil with the herbs and crushed garlic in a microwave safe container on low for about 4 to 5 minutes and let stand until cooled to infuse.
  • combine ingredients and add salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste.
  • add a squeeze of lemon or a dash of vinegar (rice wine or sherry) to brighten it up and contrast with the earthiness of the beans/peas.
  • toss with the extra-virgin olive oil, herbs and garlic.  (I’ve used about 1 to 1-1/2
  • tablespoon of very finely minced winter savory here.)
Some other additions or variations that are possible would include:
  • if you have “leftover” rice in the fridge or freezer, you could add that to the mix to make this a light meal that has complete proteins.
  • sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese; be careful how much salt you add if you’re going to use feta cheese with this.
  • add chunks of good quality tuna (canned) or from “leftover” tuna steak (this would be worth planning to have some extra grilled tuna steak around).
Now you say you have some lingering in the fridge and you’re tired of eating it? Well, try putting it into some rice as you’re cooking it–the purple-hulled peas usually hold shape well, and the tomatoes and onions will cook with the rice.  Now use it as a side dish with grilled/griddled meat; you might want to add additional herbs to this.