How I learned about pulses and drank the Kool-Aid

April 29, 2016

Halibut with Green Olive Salsa Verde, Arugula, and Lentils /
I’ve been holding out on you. Not on purpose, of course, but just because I’ve been busy doing and saying other things. But here it is.


Nope, not the rate at which your heart beats, but dried beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas—those are also pulses. Apparently most of the world refers to them that way, so here in the US, getting the word out about the benefits of pulses has been doubly challenging because producers also have to educate us as to what the heck a pulse is.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’d been hearing about pulses, the food, for a while, including that the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse. But I wasn’t really sure what they are or what’s so good about them. So when I got invited to a “pulse immersion” at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena in January, I went.

The opening reception had attendees enjoying assorted pulse-y tidbits, but when I got to the brownies made with garbanzo flour, I balked. I’m all for being healthy, but if I’m going to have a brownie, I want butter and flour and sugar—a brownie I’m really going to relish and enjoy.

And yet, by the end of the next morning’s keynote presentation, I was all in for pulses. And you might like to join me. Here’s why.

1. Pulses are a low-fat, high-fiber protein with a low glycemic index and tons B vitamins. So they’re good for you.

2. Pulses are drought-friendly, soil-enriching, and have the lowest carbon footprint of any food group. So they’re sustainable.

But here’s what really caught my attention.

3. Pulses help regulate blood sugar, cholesterol, and appetite. I sat at attention to hear of a study where one group was asked to reduce calories and another to simply add pulses to the diet they were already eating. The latter group not only lost more weight, but they showed other health benefits as well, like reduced cholesterol.

So, for example, if I sprinkle a few black beans into a salad, serve some lentils alongside my entree (Halibut with Green Olive Salsa Verde, Arugula, and Lentils, perhaps?), or even add garbanzos to my brownies, I’ll be healthier and thinner?

Then count me in.

The rest of the conference had attendees cooking up a pulse-y storm in the CIA kitchens. It was amazing and impressive to see the buffet groaning with the fruits of our labor—chickpea fries, tamales, Indian lentil stew, falafel, Thai larb with white beans, vegetables stuffed with rice and beans, fava salad, multigrain bread, Russian tea cakes, Moroccan tangines, cookies, muffins, banana bread, and more.

I tasted and enjoyed pretty much all of it. But that was no surprise—by then, I’d already drunk the Kool-Aid.

Halibut with Green Olive Salsa Verde, Arugula, and Lentils /

For the record, I am steadfastedly against any thinking that there’s a magic bullet, a food or food group that’s going to solve all our problems and miracously make us beautiful and immortal.

Also for the record, it’s possible that one might achieve some of the same benefits from eating more whole grains, or more fiber.

But the bottom line is that I was impressed. I started out skeptical, and ended up thinking that upping my intake of pulses would be a good idea—that it’d be a healthy thing to do, but maybe also a delicious thing to do. That pulses might make a difference—in my life and maybe even in the whole world.


I got home and I cooked up all the pulse-y odds and ends in my cupboard, half-used packages of scarlet runner beans and lentils, and had no trouble sprinkling them in over the next week or two. A little bit later, I cooked up some dried garbanzos and froze them in 1/2-cup-ish portions, which I stirred into rice, scattered into salads, and pureed into hummus.

And it’s been that way pretty much ever since.

Have I become a toothpick? Of course not. But I have experienced feeling satiated and satisfied. Nourished. And that’s probably better than being a toothpick anyway.

Who knows? Maybe next, I’ll put them in a brownie.

Although I was treated to the conference by the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, I’m sharing about it completely at my own discretion. To learn more, and for more pulse recipes, check out this SF Chronicle article by attendee Tara Duggan, this Eat the Love blog post by attendee Irvin Lin, and USA Pulses.

Halibut with Green Olive Salsa Verde, Arugula, and Lentils /

16 thoughts on “How I learned about pulses and drank the Kool-Aid

  1. Rita

    I’ve been a fan of pulses for a very long time, especially lentils etc. Mostly because they’re so easy and fast to cook — and SO versatile.

  2. Susan

    I’ve drunk the cool-aid too! I love pulses. Like Rita, especially lentils. I almost always have some tucked away in the fridge. They cook up fast, but pulling them out of the fridge is even faster :-)

  3. Jill Post author

    I hear you, Rita! I’ve always been one to have a few cans of beans on hand and add them to salads, etc. I hope I’ve sort of graduated now, though, to cooking up a pot semi-regularly and using them more often. Regular visits to the Rancho Gordo store here in Napa!

  4. Jill Post author

    A virtual toast of the Kool-Aid glass to you, Susan! And thanks for commenting! I heard at the pulse event I attended that now several types of beans are also available frozen–so that may be a new thing to explore for quick-and-easy pulse additions.

  5. Jill Post author

    Thanks for stopping by and saying so, Alison! Is there any particular way you like to use pulses best? I’m wanting to expand my repertoire.

  6. Dee Dee (My Midlife Kitchen)

    I have a whole selection of partial containers of “pulses” (I admit, I’d never heard that reference before!) in my pantry, and now I have even less excuses as to why they are languishing in there!

  7. Rita

    While doing some food trend research, I came across this from
    What are pulses?
    Pulses are edible dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. They fall under the legume family, but the word “pulse” specifically refers to legumes that are grown and harvested for their dry seed and grown as food. So pulses include lentils, chickpeas as well as split peas and beans like kidney bean or navy bean.

    Aren’t pulses just legumes?
    In the US, we tend to refer to pulses under the broad, sweeping term “legume.” Here’s the kicker: While all pulses are legumes, all legumes are not necessarily pulses. Legumes are plants in the family Fabaceae, and they not only include dry peas, lentils, beans and chickpeas that are grown for food, but also those that are grown for forage or for crop rotation, like alfalfa.

    So, you might be thinking, “I get it. Pulses are edible legumes.”
    Not so fast. Pulses include only dry, edible legumes like dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. So, green beans and fresh peas don’t count.

  8. Jill Post author

    Right, Dee Dee?!? Cook up a few and sprinkle ’em around! Once I got mine out of the cupboards and cooked up, at the ready in the fridge, it was kind of fun finding uses for them!

  9. Jill Post author

    Good stuff, Rita–thanks for sharing! At the conference, they also ruled out peanuts and soy beans as pulses–although they’re legumes, the category of pulses includes only legumes that are low in fat, and peanuts and soy don’t qualify. So that’d mean that pulses are dry, edible legumes (accd’g to your research) that are also low in fat (accd’g to USA Pulses).

  10. Jill Post author

    At the “immersion,” Patricia, I tried lots of sweets that had pulses in them, both in the form of flours (dried pulses ground into flour)–like the garbanzo beans that were in the brownies–and in the form of chopped, pureed, or whole cooked pulses–like lentil puree in chocolate cake and chopped chickpeas in muffins. There were also a lot of gluten-free recipes that used pulse flours instead of wheat flour–a gluten-free oatmeal raisin cookie that was the best I’d ever had, with or without gluten!

  11. Jill Post author

    When you think about it, Rita, it’s no crazier than beets in brownies. Remember how crazy that sounded at first?!?

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