Power of the pulse: Top chefs share secrets of bean cuisine in colorful new book

Lovers of peas, pinto beans, lentils and their leguminous cousins can now boost their appetites and cooking skills thanks to a colorful new book featuring recipes from international top chefs passionate about one of the world’s most versatile super foods: pulses.

Launched today by FAO, “Pulses, nutritious seeds for a sustainable future” takes readers on a 190-page journey through kitchens and cultures across the world, delving into cooking pots and local histories to explore the indigenous roots, contemporary benefits and timeless flavors of dried bean cuisine.

In addition to providing an overview of pulses and the ways they benefit nutrition, health, biodiversity and food security, the book explains step-by-step what to look for when buying them, how to grow them at home, and how to cook them. It follows ten internationally acclaimed chefs on their daily trip to the market and joins them back to their kitchens as they prepare three easy, pulse-based dishes and share their best kept cooking secrets.

And the book doesn’t just cater to readers’ taste buds – it’s also packed with information, graphics and factoids on pulses: their diversity, where they’re grown and which countries grow and trade them, and their nutritional characteristics.

“It is a book filled with illustrations and beautiful photographs and shows the many ways in which pulses contribute to food security, sustainable agriculture, climate change adaptation and overall health,” FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said at the launch event taking place in Rome today. “Pulses provide an affordable alternative to animal protein  and are increasingly becoming an important crop  for small family farmers,” he added.

Special ambassadors to act as advocates
At today’s ceremony, Graziano de Silva named UK food writer and blogger Jenny Chandler Special Ambassador for the International Year of Pulses 2016 for the Europe region. In addition to writing on her food blog, she’s the author of four cooking books, including one exclusively dedicated to pulse recipes.

She joins a group of regional ambassadors for the International Year who will support FAO in promoting the health and environmental benefit of pulses through international events and outreach to media.

In addition to Chandler, they are Joyce Boye from Canada (North America), Kadambot Siddique from India (Asia), Elizabeth Mpofu from Zimbabwe (Africa), and Magy Habib from Egypt (Near East). The nomination for Latin America and the Caribbean is being finalized.

Why pulses?
From falafel to dahl to chilli, the book shows how pulses are part of food culture and standard diet across the planet and a key ingredient in many signature national and regional dishes (learn more: What are pulses).

While small, pulses are packed with proteins – double that found in wheat and three times that in rice. Particularly when they’re consumed with cereals, pulses increase the protein quality of meals. They are also rich in micronutrients and b-vitamins, and the fact that they’re cheap makes them ideal for improving diets in poorer parts of the world.

But their health benefits don’t stop there. Pulses are also excellent for managing weight, cholesterol and digestive health and for combating anemia in women and children. And because they do not contain gluten, they are ideal for celiac patients.

Benefits for biodiversity, climate adaptation
Because pulses help fix nitrogen in our soils, they makes for healthier, more productive farmland, which leaves farmers less dependent on synthetic fertilizers and leads to a smaller carbon footprint.

Plus, by improving soil health overall, they create a rich home for germs, bugs and bacteria of various kinds, which boost below-the-surface biodiversity, too.

In the age of climate change, pulses have much to offer to farmers looking to adapt their production to changing climate conditions: with hundreds of varieties to choose from, there’s a pulse for nearly every environment

“Pulses, nutritious seeds for a sustainable future,” digs deeper into these and many other facts about the power of pulses. The hardcover book is currently available in English, French, Spanish, and versions in Arabic, Chinese and Russian are in production. It retails at $29.95 through FAO and select distributors (email publications-sales@fao.org for direct orders and local retail information or find it on Amazon in hard copy and kindle format).