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.
The United Nations has proffered several reasons for declaring 2016 the International Year of Pulses. In developing countries, pulses account for 75 per cent of the daily diet. Yet, worldwide, pulse consumption is declining. The UN would like to reverse this trend.
Pulses are a good source of protein yet less stressful on the environment than raising livestock. Pulses provide 20 to 25 per cent protein by weight, double that of wheat at 10 per cent and about half that of meat at 30 to 40 per cent.
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 litres 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 petrochemical 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.
The UN website includes many pulse recipes from around the world. You’ll find a link to the online cookbook on my food blog homefordinner.blogspot.com.