Halibut with Green Olive Salsa Verde, Arugula, and Lentils / JillHough.com

How I learned about pulses and drank the Kool-Aid

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 / JillHough.com

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 / JillHough.com

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