The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses.
This announcement is important for several reasons. Firstly, it underlines the important role pulses play in the diets of a significant part of the world’s population.
Secondly, it highlights the need for us to look at more sustainable sources of protein, given the meat industry’s massive contribution to global warming and profligate use of increasingly scarce resources (for example it takes 100 times more water to produce a gram of beef protein than to produce a gram of vegetable protein).
It also recognises the astonishing role pulses play in food production.
Pulses belong to the legume family of vegetables, which includes lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas. They are a rich source of plant protein, iron and fibre. But they also play a vital role in the health of the soil and consequently in the health of other plants.
It is the nitrogen-fixing properties in their root nodules which makes pulses so rich in plant protein. Nitrogen is a key ingredient for the production of proteins, becoming incorporated into amino acids within the plant.
When a pulse plant is cut back or dies, its remaining nitrogen is released into the soil, where it becomes available to other plants.
This ability to enrich the soil has led to legumes sometimes being described as “green manure”. Organic growing methods such as crop rotation help ensure that all plant varieties benefit from the ability of pulse plants to fix nitrogen.
Aside from these remarkable and vital properties, pulses can be dried and stored, making them ideal as a food source throughout the months of late winter and early spring when there isn’t so much fresh seasonal produce available.
These dried pulses are particularly nutritious and delicious when newly sprouted, adding texture to dishes such as salads and stir fries.
This crisp, healthy salad is one such example, in which I have used sprouted mung beans. It is full of flavour and texture, enhanced by a lively oriental-style dressing: a perfect restorative to those still recovering from the excesses of the festive period.
winter slaw with ginger and sesame dressing
¼ Savoy or other winter cabbage, finely shredded
200 g mung bean or similar bean sprouts
2 organic apples, spiralised or grated
6 spring onions, red and green parts, sliced diagonally
1 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
for the dressing
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
50 ml mirin (rice wine vinegar)
20 ml organic soy sauce
20 ml toasted sesame oil
20 ml groundnut oil
1 tsp maple syrup
1. For the dressing, combine the ginger, garlic, mirin, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, groundnut oil and maple syrup and whisk together until emulsified.
2. Place the cabbage, bean sprouts, red pepper, apple and red onion in a salad bowl. Pour over a generous amount of the dressing and add the toasted sesame seeds. Toss to combine.