By Tara Duggan
Black lentils, along with other dried beans,
peas and chickpeas, are pulses.
This year, the United Nations is promoting a food that’s easy
to grow, earth-friendly and can alleviate global hunger. Yet while most
Americans have eaten it, they wouldn’t be able to name it.
The U.N. has declared 2016 as the International Year
of the Pulse, a family of legumes that includes dry peas, lentils,
chickpeas and beans. Heart-healthy, filling and even drought-tolerant,
these beans have always been seen as completely virtuous, and a little
bit boring. Suddenly, though, they might also be cool, swept up as they
are in the frenzy of plant-based and gluten-free cooking. Will pulses be
the new quinoa, which had its U.N. International Year in 2013?
Because they are a foundation of many traditional
cuisines, it’s not so hard to find delicious ways to cook pulses, be it
white beans marinated in a salad or garbanzo beans simmered in a silky
North African harira.
The most exciting new ways to use pulses are in
baking, pastry and even cocktails. In black bean brownies — the new
gluten-free vegan potluck standby — or Rich Chocolate Lentil Cake,
cooked and pureed pulses add a surprisingly un-beany complexity.
Garbanzo bean cooking water, dubbed “aquafaba” by its vegan devotees,
can be whipped up into something almost identical to a meringue, an
incredibly stable stand-in for egg whites in everything from macarons
to Pisco sours. Eggless lemon meringue pie, anyone?
Pulse flour is another new way to experiment with
these plant proteins. At a recent cooking workshop for media at the
Culinary Institute at Greystone in St. Helena — hosted by the USA Dry
Pea and Lentil Council — baking instructor Steven Isaac showed off Pulse
Sourdough Breads that he had made by adding black bean, green lentil
and garbanzo bean flours to sourdough starters. The resulting loaves
still had great structure from long fermentation, with the pulses adding
extra nutrition and flavor, not to mention subtle color.
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