January 8, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 1
International Year of Pulses
Pulses? No, they have nothing to do with beating hearts (other than their overall health properties), but rather, pulses are the foods you probably know as dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses to heighten public awareness of their nutritional, economic, and environmental benefits: 
  • Pulses are an important source of fiber, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and plant-based protein. They can help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions and cancer. 
  • Protein sourced from pulses costs one-fifth as much as protein from milk. They are inexpensive to buy, they have a long shelf-life, and they keep you satisfied for longer than many other foods. A study in Obesity found that eating a meal with pulses, which include beans, made study participants feel more full than a meal without pulses. 
  • Pulses have a positive impact on the environment because they fix nitrogen in the soil, increasing soil fertility. They also help increase organic matter and microbial biomass and activity (e.g. bacteria, fungi) in the soil. For this reason, they play a key role in crop rotation and the health of the planet.
Pulses are cooked worldwide to celebrate the new year, and many cultures believe they bring good luck and prosperity. In the southern United States, black-eyed peas are traditionally served on New Year's Day in a dish called Hoppin' John. The dried peas are thought to bring frugality and abundance in the coming year because they are affordable and maintain their taste days later. Similarly, in Italy, cotechino con lenticchie - sausage with green lentils - is served on New Year's Day to foster growing wealth. This idea is attributed to the lentils' green color, coin shape, and expanding size when cooked. These superstitions about the power of pulses are not far from the truth. 

Pulses are important to the Mediterranean diet for all of these reasons and (not least of all) for their rich, creamy flavor. They are used in innumerable ways, as they have been for centuries. North Africans savor harira, a soup made with a mixture of pulses and lamb, Spaniards enjoy potaje de lentejas, a beef and lentil stew, and countless street vendors in the Middle East serve falafels, chickpea fritters. Let's not forget the most famous Middle Eastern dish, hummus, a puréed chickpea spread, or pasta e fagioli, Italian bean soup. Ful-medames, a dried brown fava bean spread, is the national dish of Egypt, and fasolada, a white bean soup, is the national dish of both Greece and Cyprus. The Turkish equivalent, kuru fasulye, is the national dish of Turkey. 

According to Nancy Harmon Jenkins in her book The Essential Mediterranean:
The appeal of these legumes, alone or in combination, is ancient and strong - they are the foods of the poor, foods of the teeming streets of ancient cities like Aleppo, Cairo, and Fez, but also foods of national (as opposed to ethnic or social) identity, eaten in these multicultural cities by all religions and all ethnic backgrounds, Christians, Moslems, and Jews, and by all social classes and economic groups. (225)
Pulses are powerful, nutritious, and tasty foods, and we hope they bring you good luck and prosperity in the new year!

Check out the lentil, bean, and chickpea recipes below for a few ideas for cooking with pulses and take the pulse pledge for more inspiration in the coming weeks. Check out our 12 Great Ways To Use Lentils too!

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.

Similar to an omelet, a frittata is an egg-based dish perfect for showcasing a variety of ingredients. In this recipe, the filling combines lentils with classic Greek ingredients: cherry tomatoes, red onion, olives and feta cheese. Get your pulses in the morning and pack a slice for lunch the next day.

Recipe and photo courtesy of the American Pulse Association

Gigandes beans, named for their massive size, are a knockout ingredient in salads or pastas. Find them pre-cooked and marinated in the canned foods aisle or at the prepared foods bar at your grocery store. Plump and creamy, they're marinated in a tangy vinaigrette that pairs deliciously with grilled shrimp.

Recipe and photo courtesy of FoodMatch

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a classic Mediterranean ingredient. Here, they are tossed with farro, fennel, tuna, and arugula with a bright splash of lemon. Feta scattered over the top makes a tasty finish. Serve it as a light supper any day of the week or take it to go, since it packs well for school or work lunch. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of the National Fisheries Institute.

Bean by Bean
by Crescent Dragonwagon
From old friends like chickpeas and pintos to rediscovered heirloom beans like rattlesnake beans and teparies, Bean by Bean is the definitive cookbook on beans. It's a 175-plus recipe cornucopia overflowing with information, kitchen wisdom, lore, anecdotes, and a zest for good food and good times.
by Claudia Roden
The New Book of Middle Eastern Food represents the accumulation of Roden's thirty years of extensive travel throughout the ever-changing landscape of the Middle East. She gathered stories and recipes, many of which use pulses, for the home cook looking for healthy, inexpensive, flavorful, and wonderfully satisfying dishes.
by John J.B. Anderson and Marilyn C. Sparling
The Mediterranean Way of Eating is a scientific read that examines historical ways of eating in the Mediterranean, and the evidence-based health benefits for each of the food groups - such as fruits, vegetables (including pulses), grains, fish, meat, dairy products - along with suggestions for using the foods as part of a healthy diet.

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.   

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit: