Did you know that 2016 is the year of the pulse? I sure didn’t, until I saw it trending on Twitter and I was like, big deal, so you have a pulse and you’re alive, that’s pretty much everyone…But, they didn’t mean pulse as in heartbeats, they meant pulses as in grains and legumes, specifically dried beans, peas and lentils, which I eat. All. The. Time. So basically it meant that I was trending and didn’t even know it. That really only ever happens to me.
What’s a pulse? Do I even have one?
Pulses are part of the legume family, but the term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed. Dried peas, edible beans, lentils and chickpeas are the most common varieties of pulses. (Pulsecanada.com–follow them on Twitter! ) So, we’re talking about goodies like black beans, kidney beans, azuki beans, pinto beans, white and yellow peas, French green and red lentils. You’ve probably been eating pulses your whole life and not even known that you could’ve called them pulses and that people would’ve thought you were all smart and interesting.
If you care about earth stuff and environmental impacts, then look no further than the humble pulse. This bean/lentil family’s carbon and water footprints are 5 times lower than soybeans and 11-18 times lower than that used for meat production. “It takes just 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of pulses compared with 216 for soybreans…”(Global Pulse Confederation), which is a cool stat you can impress your friends with as you’re munching away on your three-bean salad and they’re all sad with their chicken caesar.
According to the Global Pulse Confederation, pulses also have a positive impact on the overall quality of the soil used in agriculture:
Pulses have a direct positive impact on soil quality because they help feed soil microbes, which benefits soil health. Pulses have also been shown to produce greater amounts and different types of amino acids than non-legumes and the plant residues left after harvesting pulse crops have a different bio-chemical composition than other crop residues. It is this diversity in soil composition that comes from a good pulse rotation, which help crops to thrive and which offers greater protection against disease-causing bacteria and fungi.
Which is a fancy way of saying that plant systems like those of lentils and kidney beans actually help amend the soil and make it better for future growing situations. That’s pretty awesome! See why pulses are so hot right now?! #IYP2016!
So you want to be #trending, too? Eat your beans!
When I started cleaning up my family’s act, one of the first food items to go was my towering canned good collection (read post here). What that mostly meant for us, was no more handy canned beans. No more six-can dinners. No more chili in a jiffy. Instead of canned, I now had an adorable vintage jar set up with every dried bean and lentil I could get my hands on. Which, isn’t realistic for everyone. Sure, it looks cute and makes me feel all old-school, but if they’re not being used, what’s the point?
When you are getting started with your new dried bean project, I would strongly suggest focusing on two or three beans that you either use on the regular or know you’d use if you had them. Not sure what kind of beans you like? Not a problem. Start by thinking about what you like to eat. What kind of cuisine are you drawn to? Love Mexican? Grab some black or pinto beans. Adore Italian? Kidney beans or northern beans are awesome. Crazy for middle eastern eats? Lentils and chickpeas. And more lentils. It’s not about getting overwhelmed with beans for days, it’s about actually using them and improving your diet.
Beans actually improve my diet?
You betcha! Beans are full of important vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium, B vitamins, potassium, folate, and zinc. They are a high source of fibre; both soluble, which helps control blood sugar levels, and insoluable which aids in digestion and regularity. Did you know beans are also great sources of protein? One cup of cooked beans is equal to about 15 grams of protein.
Dried beans vs. canned. Is there a difference?
When buying beans, you have a huge choice: dried or canned. Canned beans are, without a doubt, easier to use. You just open the can, rinse them if you’re feeling virtuous, and dump into a soup or stew. Done. Dried beans, on the other hand, take a bit more time and attention. You have to give the dried beans a quick once over to remove stones or weird looking beans. You have to presoak them. Then rinse them. Then cook them. Then finally use them. It can seem like canned is the surefire winner. But there are a few things to take into consideration before knocking dried beans out of the competition:
Most cans are lined with BPA/BPS to ensure a shelf stable product. That means your beans are in direct contact with estrogen mimics, which isn’t good for anyone.
Since it is probably practically impossible to can something without any additives and have any hopes of it surviving nuclear fallout, preservatives seem to be the thing to use. Calcium chloride, sodum benzoate, and sulphites are all good examples of fancy preserving methods, and are also totally avoidable chemicals that your body just doesn’t need.
So you don’t have high blood pressure, and reducing your sodium intake is probably not even on your radar. But it should be: did you know that one serving of canned beans can equal one-fifth of your daily sodium intake? Mmmm…salty…but totally unnecessary.
Have you read Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson? You should. Seriously. I couldn’t stand being with myself for a week after I read it. If you look at cans vs. dried from a waste standpoint, the winner is pretty clear.
Let’s do some math:
1lb bag of dried beans=6-7 cups cooked
1 15 oz can cooked beans= 1.5-1.75 cups cooked
Therefore, it would then take 4-5 cans of cooked beans to equal 1 bag of beans (go math!)
To take that one step further: 1 roughly 4”x8” plastic bag=5 aluminum cans that may or may not be recycled.
Now, at this point if you’ve read Zero Waste Home, you’re like whoa, slow down here, in garbage vs recycling, recycling always wins. And if you just said that, then I challenge you to purchase your dried beans from a bulk store that allows you to bring in your own reusable produce/flour bags. They’re out there. I promise. Even here in Ontario.
Looking at our little math lesson above you can safely assume that dried beans are way cheaper than canned. Say you pay $2.99 for a pound of beans. Even if you were to get the canned beans on sale for .99 each, you would still be paying $4-5 for the same amount. Meaning a savings of $2. Which adds up over a year.
Okay, so now what?
Getting started doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Go to the store. Get yourself some dried beans. Cook them up one evening while you’re making something else for dinner. Pop what you don’t need in the freezer for future beantastic meals. Aim for one bean-centric meal a week. Only one. (I’ll even give you a recipe at the end so your first week’s meal is on me!)
How to reconstitute dried beans (the easy way)
Start with one pound of dried beans.
Quickly sift through beans, removing any stones or undesirable looking beans.
Put beans in a pot with cold water, enough to cover the beans. Bring to a boil, and allow to boil for 2 minutes. Turn heat off and allow pot to sit, with lid on, for one hour.
Drain beans, rinse and return to pot. Fill pot with water, allowing for an additional 2-3 inches of water. Gently simmer beans, without lid on, for 1-2 hours. Check on the beans at the 1 hour mark, for doneness.
Drain. Let beans cool. Portion and freeze until ready to use.
*the only beany exception is kidney beans, which need a 10 minute pre-boil before simmering. It’s so phytohemagglutinin, a toxin that can upset digestion can be broken down. If you don’t cook kidney beans properly you can get pretty sick. Like diarrhea sick. Enough said.
**note: if you are feeling especially thrifty, save that final bean liquid. It’s full of nutrients and makes a great liquid addition for soups!
Get started using beans today!
It would be unkind at this point to leave you without giving you a recipe to make one meatless-bean-filled-meal this week. This refried bean recipe is always in my freezer, pre-portioned and ready to go. Make some bean burritos, use it in a seven-layer dip, or put a dollop alongside your rice and veggies.
Easy Refried Beans
1 pound dried pinto beans
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups water/chicken stock/both
(optional: you can add 1 jalapeño finely diced and seeded, but I typically omit this as we have one little girl who thinks air is spicy)
Rinse and clean beans well. Place them in a slow cooker along with the onion, garlic, spices, salt and pepper (and jalapeño if you’re using). Add water/stock.
Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours, or on high for 4-5 hours.
Remove some of the liquid (around 2-3 cups). Reserve the liquid and blend beans with an immersion blender until desired consistency is reached.
Portion and freeze refried beans. This recipe will happily freeze for well over 6 months!