Pulses are getting a lot of love this year, thanks to the UN declaring 2016 the International Year of Pulses. It was a serendipitous boon for author, gardener and seed seller Dan Jason, who was already working on a book about the subject, drawn from his decades of experience growing various beans, lentils and peas on Salt Spring Island.
Jason wrote The Power of Pulses: Saving the World with Peas, Beans, Chickpeas, Favas and Lentils along with cookbook authors Alison Malone Eathorne and Hilary Malone. He handled the first half, drawing on his decades of gardening experience to discuss the health and environmental benefits of eating and growing pulses, offer tips on growing them, and profile the five main types of pulses that grow well in North America (peas, favas, lentils, chickpeas and beans). The second half of the book delivers dozens of recipes developed by Eathorne and Malone, spanning appetizers and finger foods to salads, soups, entrées and desserts.
The publisher (Vancouver-based Douglas & McIntyre) has opted for a homey design in a colour palette of minty greens and dusty pinks and purples—reminiscent of the pulses themselves. The pages are fleshed out with plenty of brightly lit, beautiful photographs of pulses in various states, from alive and growing to shelled and dried, as well as prepared in a number of dishes. (Unfortunately, there isn’t a photo for every recipe.) The photography might feel a bit redundant to some—and like pure, unabashed gardening porn to others—but it’s varied enough to pique interest in a subject that might otherwise conjure images of drab baked beans or monochrome chilis, which undoubtedly form the breadth of many Canadians’ entire experience with pulses.
The loopy, coloured serif font chosen for the chapter and recipe titles, and the floral pattern running along the edge of each new chapter page and beside some of the recipe photos, might feel a bit dated. But the overall effect of The Power of Pulses is generally appealing in a down-to-earth way, striving for approachability and a lack of pretension.
In keeping with the book’s novice-oriented focus, the collected recipes are fairly simple and widely appealing, offering a solid introduction to cooking with pulses. They also happen to be all vegetarian too, and quite a few of them are vegan, or could be easily adapted. A few pages of basic bean cookery introduce the section—fear not if you’ve never boiled a bean before.
A number of the recipes are quite simple and/or familiar, often riffs on classic recipes with straightforward substitutions of pulses for meat: maple-baked northern beans, black bean burgers, lentil and mushroom cottage pie, mac and peas, power pulse chili. There are also two simple “mother” recipes for salad and soup—basically a shopping list of ingredients alongside a rough skeleton of how to throw them all together—offering inspiration for endless combinations.
A handful of the recipes will appeal to the more well-versed or adventurous cook, though none are overly complex. A few ethnic dishes (socca tart with olive tapenade; curried peas and paneer) touch on some of the innumerable ways pulses are enjoyed daily by various cultures around the world. Possibly the most intriguing—and decadent—recipe is the black bean brownies with espresso ganache (scroll down for the recipe). Parents of picky children, take note: these brownies use black beans, blended into a paste, as a base—a completely undetectable way to get in a serving of protein.
Overall, this is a very friendly introduction to a subject that the average North American home cook is likely only passingly familiar with. It’s designed to be a weeknight, go-to resource—and in this it certainly succeeds.
The Power of Pulses
By Dan Jason, Hilary Malone, Alison Malone Eathorne
Douglas & McIntyre, 208 pp, $24.95
Black Bean Brownies with Espresso Ganache
From the book: Even the most dedicated brownie connoisseurs will be shocked to find out that this decadent dessert contains a hefty quantity of black beans, which are inherently mild in flavour. Lovely on their own, these brownies are taken to the next level with espresso ganache.
2 cups cooked black beans
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tbsp espresso powder (optional)
Pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup 35 percent cream
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp espresso powder (or instant coffee granules, dissolved in cream)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350F.
Pulse beans in a food processor to form a paste. In a large bowl, combine beans and melted chocolate. Add remaining brownie ingredients and stir until combined. Pour batter into a greased nine-inch square pan and bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Place pan on a rack and allow to cool completely before cutting.
For the ganache, melt chocolate over a double boiler. Add remaining ingredients and remove from heat. Allow mixture to cool before spreading over brownies.