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Finger on the pulse?

How are your New Year resolutions going? Take more exercise, cut down on the booze, eat more healthily – at Manna from Devon, ours are probably the same as many of yours and in post-festive and slightly gloomy January, it’s easy to see it all as rather a penance.

This January however is the start of the UN’s International Year of the Pulse – not the one in your wrist but the ones in your store cupboard. If you’re after some healthy eating and filling recipes you could do worse than reach for these staple ingredients. They are packed full of protein and fibre, low in fat and cheap to buy; great for warming lunches and suppers, especially now it’s got suddenly colder, and they fill you up meaning you won’t need to reach for mid-afternoon snacks.

Pulses are dried beans and lentils and are a common ingredient in most of the rest of the world. Our nation’s best loved pulse is the baked bean but the variety is huge. Traditionally you’d have needed to soak the dried beans overnight and then boil them vigorously for 10 minutes and then simmer until tender. This obviously take up a lot of time and steams up the kitchen however we use good quality tinned or jarred beans to save all that – tins and jars are easy and quick to use and great stand-bys to have in.

Now there’s no getting away from the wind-inducing reputation that beans and lentils have. However tinned and canned pulses seem to have less of an effect than the dried ones so another good reason to have them in the store cupboard.

Many beans!

Dried pulses we found for sale during our journey round India

Chickpeas – fantastic for curries as they hold together well but also easy to whizz up into a homemade hummus.

Canellini beans – mix with slow-cooked onions or leeks, garlic and a sprig of fresh sage to go with chicken for an Italian style supper.
Haricot beans – the traditional baked bean; try making your own with some slow-cooked onions, smoked bacon lardons and a spicy tomato sauce.
Butter beans – the Spaniards love these and call them Judion beans. They do bring flooding back grim memories of school dinners but try to get over that and use them to make fabulous soups and stews.
Flageolet beans – a pretty pale green in colour and as with all the beans, great in soups and stews and also whizzed up to make a hummus-style dip.
Kidney beans – commonly used in chilli con carne but also great in salads.
Lentils – red, green and brown – we do use these as dried but there’s no soaking required and great for making spicy Indian dhals and soups.
Split peas – again no soaking needed and perfect for mushy peas and great for a traditional ham and pea soup.

Beans don't necessarily mean Heinz

Homemade Boston Baked Beans we found on our Barbeque road trip in the States

Garlicky and Lemon Hummus
1 tin chickpeas
Finely grated zest 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
½ tsp salt and ground cumin
50ml cold water

1. Drain and rinse the tin of chickpeas and put them in a food processor.
2. Add the lemon zest, olive oil, garlic, ground cumin and salt.
3. Whizz together in the food processor until smooth by pouring the water through the funnel as the motor is running.
4. Chill in the fridge until needed
5. Serves 2 with a tomato & cucumber salad and toasted pitta bread or with veggie sticks of carrot, celery and red peppers. Also great as an accompaniment to griddled lamb chops.

Italian-style braised beans
2 tins cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium leek, finely sliced and rinsed
1-2 sprigs fresh sage
200ml chicken stock
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Finely grated zest 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the leek and garlic. Cook over a low heat until the leek is soft and then add the beans, sage and stock.
2. Season well, bring to the boil and cover with a lid.
3. Simmer gently for 20 minutes and then stir in the chopped parsley and lemon zest.
4. Serves 4 with roast chicken and steamed broccoli.

Spicy Lentil Soup – we came across numerous versions of this soup while travelling around India. It’s quick to make – we often make it for lunch when working at home – and will reheat well so you can make it in advance.

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
3cm piece root ginger, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2tbsp sunflower oil
1tbsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cumin
150g red lentils
1 tin chopped tomatoes
750ml chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, fresh chilli, ginger and garlic.
2. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until the onion softens.
3. Stir in the ground coriander and cumin and cook for another minute.
4. Add the lentils, tomatoes and stock and season well.
5. Bring to the boil and cover with a lid. Simmer over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until the lentils are tender.
6. Off the heat, whizz until smooth with a hand blender and serve with warmed naan breads.

not readily available....

Fresh chickpeas – tinned are fine!

You can discover more pulse recipes and ideas in our Spanish, Italian and Indian courses here at the cooking school and in our upcoming barbeque courses. Remember they’re not just good for you but delicious too!