As you may know, the UN General Assembly has declared 2016 the “International Year of the Pulses.” Pulses are grain legumes like lentils, chickpeas, dry peas and dry beans. What’s so great about them? Well, according to the Global Pulse Federation, they’re a great source of protein, fiber and vitamins. They’re also good for the planet: Growing one pound of pulses takes 43 gallons of water, whereas one pound of soy takes 216 gallons and one pound of beef takes over 1,000 gallons. And, unlike many other plants, pulses are “nitrogen fixers.” This means they are able to draw nitrogen out of the air and put it into the soil in the form of “nitrogen nodules” on their roots. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plants, so fixing is vital for soil and crop health.
So yes, pulses are great and we should all eat them, but don’t think you’re stuck with plain old lentils and kidney beans. Companies like Rancho Gordo, Zürsun Idaho Heirloom Beans and North Bay Trading Co. are selling heirloom beans, which are grown from seeds that have been handed down through generations and preserved for distinctive traits like looks or taste. The results can be uniquely delicious and even beautiful. While many of the skin markings and patterns fade in the cooking process, heirloom beans are still a delicious way to enrich your diet and encourage sustainable farming. Here are 6 stunning varieties to look out for.
- 7 Recipes to Celebrate the Year of Pulses
- 5 Ways to Eat Rice and Beans for Dinner
- Seared Scallops with Cranberry Beans, Clams & Chorizo
Yes, they’re lima beans, but with their red Rorschach-like markings, christmas limas (also called chestnut limas or calico beans) are some of the most beautiful legumes around. They’re large like standard limas, but have a bold, chestnut flavor. They’re perfect for hearty winter soups, stews and gratins. $5.95 for 1 lb., ranchogordo.com.