Get to Know Pulses. Recipe: Trail Mix

Vegetarian. Gluten Free. Heart Healthy. Often overlooked as an inexpensive source of protein and fiber, pulses can play an important part in your daily menu. Not familiar with the term? You may recognize them under their more common names: peas, lentils and chickpeas. Pulses are from the family Leguminosae, or legumes, which gets its name from the characteristic pod that protects the seed while it is forming. These tiny nuggets of nutrition have been grown around the world for thousands of years. There is even a non-profit organization, the Northern Pulse Growers Association, based in North Dakota and dedicated to the promotion and awareness of their nutritional benefits. Who knew? 


Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike appreciate them as a cheap source of protein, with a pound of beans costing around $1. Those with celiac disease can enjoy them freely as they contain no gluten. Their high levels of fiber help maintain a healthy weight by making you feel full longer. And, since they have a low glycemic index, they are popular with diabetics as they assist in stabilizing blood glucose levels. Peas, chickpeas and lentils also all contain “phytochemicals,” one of those buzzwords you always hear about. Phytochemicals are simply chemicals found in plants that are responsible for their color, smell, taste and other unique characteristics. They are not readily identifiable as specific vitamins and minerals, but plants have been coveted for them for thousands of years to help cure a host of diseases, including reducing the risk of cancer and improving metabolic functioning. 


You can find pulses throughout the grocery store in the bulk section, prepackaged and in cans. I’ve found that beans and lentils in the bulk section tend to be the cheapest and all items in this section come with the added bonus of being able to buy as little or as much as you want. Buying in bulk can save money, time and waste and some food coops give discounts if you buy a whole bag (usually 15-25 pounds). This is a great option for pulses since they have such a long shelf life--if you store them in a dry, sealed container in a cool place they will keep indefinitely. 


Preparing them is also easy. Just cover them with water (generally two or three cups of water to one cup of pulses), bring them to a boil and then let them simmer until they reach the desired tenderness. Add salt and seasonings, such as bay leaves or broth for extra flavor. Cooking times range from about 20 minutes for lentils to 35-45 minutes for peas to almost an hour or more for chickpeas, which can benefit from overnight soaking. 


Looking for some ideas to get you started? Once in the world of pulses, the options are endless. Hummus (made from chickpeas) is a perennial favorite in much of the world and you can also replace your junk food snack habit with roasted chickpeas. Lentils are great in meatloaf or fried lentil cakes. You can add pulses to chili or make great soup, such as split pea or lentil soup. If you like to munch on sprouts, pulses are also great for that...and easy. Check out this website for information and videos on sprouting pulses and much more.


Below is a fun recipe for a different kind of trail mix, courtesy of the Northern Pulse Growers Association. You can mix and match to suit your own tastes. Enjoy! 


Trail Mix

1/3 cup roasted red lentils

1/3 cup roasted split yellow peas

1/3 cup split yellow peas

1/3 cup roasted sunflower seeds

1/3 cup dried mixed berries (blueberries, cranberries)

1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

½ cup olive oil

½ tsp sea salt or to taste


Soak peas and lentils for at least one hour. Boil the soaked peas using three cups of water per one cup of peas. Bring the pot to boil and simmer until tender. Drain the water from the cooked peas and spread thinly on a tray. Sprinkle some sea salt. For peas, bake at 360 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until crunchy. For lentils, bake at 360 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until crunchy. Combine roasted lentils, peas, sunflower seeds, dried berries and chocolate chips. Sprinkle olive oil and sea salt. Mix well and serve. 



Sarah Johnson is a local food enthusiast and volunteer for the Minneapolis-Tours Sister City Association, where she blogs about Slow Food, French cuisine and other topics. To learn more about this group, please visit their website. Sarah's last article for SGT was: A Gluten-free Thanksgiving.