Friday, December 4, 2020

2021: The 5 Year Anniversary of the UN FAO International Year of Pulses

It was May 2015 when I switched to a Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet and lo and behold, 2016 was the Year of Pulses (legumes). I can only say that my repertoire of using various legumes has gradually expanded since then, so I figured it was in order to celebrate the 5-year anniversary. It will be a small, private celebration in my kitchen, but you are invited to expand it to yours. I made up my mind this winter to get really good at various heavy soups - cold weather always inspires that and in Holland we had a good tradition of heavy bean soups in winter. The bottom line is, pulses, legumes if you will provide excellent nutrition, and in any region of the world you can learn to cook with the local varieties.

I posted the first one the other day... Dutch Bruine Bonen Soep. I always assumed that this was about red kidney beans, and Wikipedia seems to reinforce that notion, but people in the Dutch community have convinced me that pinto beans are actually closer in taste. Getting comments back from around the world made me that much more aware that whatever beans you can get vary quite a bit locally. Given that I live in Little Bangladesh in the Bronx, which is overall 60% hispanic, I have a treasure trove of pulses available to me and my cooking in general reflects it. In Spanish cultures, I find mostly beans and corn, of course, as well as some chickpeas (garbanzo). In the SE Asian community, I find lots of lentils (dal), chickpeas (gram) and other goodies.

Then, when you think you have seen it all, and choice is already overwhelming, along comes 60 minutes with a piece on heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. Here is at least a vegetarian approach. I will obviously be focusing on pure @WFPB.


To begin with, I am collaborating with Fatima Cabrera, who is the cook at the St. Helena's school. Her background is Ecuadorian. We will also get some input from Leobarda, who is the cook at the rectory at St. Helena's.

The first few soups we are plannig, starting with the Pinto Bean Soup listed above:

  1. Dutch-inspired Pinto Bean Soup
  2. Ecuadorian-inspired Locro de Lentejas
  3. Dutch-inspired Split-pea soup
  4. Mexican-inspired Three Sisters Posole
  5. Mixed Bean Soup with Summer Savory

After the first five, some of which we have made before in our cooking class at St. Helena's, we are going to expand the repertoire. The theme may be expanded to include other traditions, but we will stick to soups based on various pulses, with a preference of a winter-theme - soups you can stick a fork in, so to speak.

Principles of cooking with beans

Beans can be hard to digest if you are coming from a very industrial diet (read: SAD, Standard American Diet). There are a few things to know which can make beans easier to digest. Generally speaking soaking for 6-8 hours makes life easier. In terms of the kitchen, you can shorten prep time by using an Instant Pot to pre-cook the beans, that tends to cut an hour off cooking times. For lentils and split peas, soaking and pre-cooking is generally not an issue, for they dissolve quickly. 


If you are going to cook at night, soak in the morning, putting your beans under an inch of fresh water. You can put a sheet of kombu in your beans, that will enrich the taste and the amino acids in kombu help soften beans and make them more digestible. Add a 4-6″ strip of kombu to a pot of cooking beans. After an hour or two, the kombu will disintegrate when stirred. (Any stray pieces should be tender enough to eat, or you can remove them.) See also here, on Kitchen: Ingredient Spotligh: Dried Kombu. You can drain the soaking water, but you can cook the beans with the kombu, that adds deep flavor.

If you are cooking in the AM, soak the beans at night. So they are good and ready in the AM.

Herbs and spices, basic veggies.

Bayleaf is always good, Summer Savory adds flavor and according to kitchen lore, like Kombu, it helps with digestion. 

For the rest, it all depends on what style you are cooking in and you use the herbs and spices from that tradition. I personally cannot cook anything without onions and garlic, so my soup recipes will start with that. I like to use some fresh turmeric as well. Sometimes ginger. Carrots and celery are good companions in many soups. Then there is panchpuran (five spices), which is the quick and easy way to start any dal. You should add it in right from the start and roast it with your onions. I like chilis, jalapeƱos or any variety of hot peppers. Given that beans by themselves are kind of dull, it is hard to make it too spicy, but for me a soup with some subtle zing to it is the best.

Some kitchen technique

One of the challenges with beans is the need for soaking and the pre-cooking. If you have a pressure cooking solution, you can cut it short, and you can pre-cook your beans while you are preparing the veggies for the soup. I use an Instant Pot and I love it - instead of pre-cooking for an hour, I can do it in 10 minutes.


I look forward to seeing you around the campus! We are hoping to relaunch the cooking classes at St. Helena's in the spring.




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