Monday, January 10, 2011

Lesson in Legumes

Pulse: from the Latin puls, meaning thick soup or potage, pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family such as pea, lentil, bean and chickpea.
Source: Pulse Canada.
Legumes, or pulses refer to beans, chickpeas, peas and lentils. The term legumes can be confusing in Canada as it means vegetables in French.  Pulses are staple foods in most cultures around the world and for good reason.   They are hearty winter foods and this time of year my slow cooker runs pretty much daily.

Last spring I was able to purchase about 1.5 kg (3 lb) of dried Cranberry, Pinto and Great Northern white beans from a local vendor at the Powassan's Farmer's Market. I am hopeful that sources for local legumes will emerge as more people take to farming local foods.  It takes a lot of plants to produce even a single cup of dried beans. Each seed pod of the Yin Yang beans I grew last summer only produced 4 or 5 dried beans.  My garden isn't that large and we eat our beans when young and before the seeds  have dried.

I was part of the dietitian review group for the "Cooking with Beans, Peas and Lentils" publication from Pulse Canada.   Download a copy at this link or cruise their recipes at the website. It contains many easy nutritious recipe ideas and tips on buying, storing and cooking with pulses. At the site you can also learn more about the health and nutrition of pulses.  Pulse Canada encourages people to eat more legumes as part of an overall strategy for a healthy planet:
"When you’re eating products made from pulses, you’re making an environmentally-friendly food choice. From the legume family, pulses take less energy to grow, producing fewer greenhouse gases. Pulse crops are also one of the most environmentally-friendly sources of protein, and contribute to sustainable food production by protecting and improving soil and water resources."
The bulk of legumes in Canada are grown in the western provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  Canada is in fact the world's top exporter of pulses.  I was surprised to find out we grow more pulses than any other country in the world other than India. The strong demand for gluten free foods has increased use of pulses in Canada and around the world.  Yes export is wonderful but we really should eat more of them!

Beans (phaseolus vulgaris) are indigenous to the Americas and historically have been an important source of protein and nutrients to the native people.  The Three Sisters of corn, beans and squash are traditionally grown together as companion plants.  Half the beans grown in Canada are grown in southern Ontario.  Visit the Ontario Bean Producers for great recipes and information.   Our largest bean crop is the white pea bean ("Navy") that is traditionally used in pioneer pork and beans but you will find a multitude of other uses.

Chickpeas (cicer arietimum) can be "desi" and "kabuli" or a.k.a. garbanzo beans.  Gram flour or besan is made from brown, small chickpeas and is used in Indian style cooking.  I like the pakoras vegetable fritters which use this bean flour.  Below is the Eat Well Gourmet Carrot Chickpea Salad and the recipe is posted at this blog.

Peas (psium sativum) are now being used by food manufacturers as pea flour, pea protein and pea fibre in foods from gluten-free baked goods to "pea butter" or "NoNuts" a peanut butter substitute.

Lentils (lensculinaris) grown in Canada vary between large and small and green, red and brown.  They are a good starting place for the novice legume user as they don't need to be soaked.  Just a quick rinse and you can cook them up in 20 or so minutes.

Legumes are worth exploring further.  You can learn how to make easy and nutritious appetizers, soups, salads, main courses and even desserts with legumes.  My favourite use of legumes includes dahl (curried lentils), split green pea soup, Southwest black bean and brown rice salad, negro frijoles (refried black beans), channa (curried chickpeas), sweet and sour baked "Navy" beans and good old minestrone soup with any kind of bean.

Eat half a cup (125 ml) daily and get the health benefits of thse nutritional super foods.  Here is my short list of the potential benefits of eating legumes regularly as part of your healthy diet:
- economical and environmentally friendly
- high in soluble and insoluble fibres, vegetable protein and a variety of health promoting nutrients
- boil your own from scratch and they are low in sodium
- low glycemic index can help manage your blood glucose
- promote satiety (make you feel full longer) and help manage weight
- lower your LDL or "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides
- lower risk of cancers, particularly prostate cancer
- help prevent constipation.

Legumes are also gluten free and can provide many nutrients required to achieve a healthy vegetarian diet. One food guide serving of beans as an alternative to meat is 175 ml (3/4 cup) - about the size of a tennis ball.  If you have a healthy diet with good variety you can meet your protein needs with 2-3 servings of meat alternatives a day.

On the downside legumes have a reputation for being musical fruit.  The gas producing nature of legumes comes from the oligosaccharides or resistant starch.  These complex sugars are digested in the colon producing short chain fatty acids which act as prebiotics or food for friendly bacteria in the gut.  It is the probiotic bacteria that fend off pathogens and contribute to improved immunity and overall good health.  The high fibre is also partly to blame for the gas.

Some people recommend you soak dried beans before cooking and pour off the liquid and most of the indigestible sugar that causes flatulence.  The problem with this approach is you also pour off water soluble nutrients like the B vitamins.  My suggestion is to slowly increase fibre and legumes into your diet and to make sure you drink enough water on a daily basis.  Expect some gas.  It is natural!

Tastefully yours,
© Nancy Guppy, RD, MHSc
Chapman's Landing Cooking Studio
My next cooking class at Chapman's Landing is "I’m a Slow Cooker” on Saturday February 5th.  Please see my menu and register online.

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