The essential pulse

Lentils, chickpeas and dry beans serve a valuable function on non-commercial menus.

pulses beans

Pulses—lentils, chickpeas, dry beans and peas, among others—are the edible seeds of legumes. They can also be a foodservice operator’s best friend when looking for protein-rich alternatives to meat. 

On the commercial side, pulses seem to be falling out of favor among restaurant operators, according to Technomic’s 2014 Menu Database. In year-over-year data, lentil mentions fell 17.1 percent, chickpea mentions fell 15.6 percent and split pea mentions fell 37.1 percent.

But operators who aren’t using pulses are making a mistake, says Brian Morton, executive chef at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. “If you’re not using [these ingredients], you’re missing out,” Morton says.

Pump up the protein

One of Morton’s favorite dishes is an orecchiette pasta with garbanzo beans, which also features chopped garlic, chopped sundried tomatoes, blanched broccoli florets, chopped spinach and Parmesan cheese. “The garbanzo beans boost the protein of the dish and give it a nice texture,” Morton says. “I’m mostly a vegetarian, so these are the go-to proteins for me. When you stew down something like lentils, you’ll get a concentration of flavor that, to me, is as strong as what you can do with meat.”

Add some spice

For his popular lentil tacos, Morton starts with a homemade taco seasoning—powder, garlic, onion, oregano, cumin, paprika, crushed red pepper, black pepper and all-purpose flour. It is added to a saute of yellow onions, garlic and dry French lentils. He stirs in vegetable broth, brings the mixture to a boil, then reduces the heat to low, and simmers in a covered pot for 45 minutes, until the lentils are tender. To finish, he adds pico de gallo and portions the taco filling into warmed tortillas, which are topped with shredded romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, Monterey Jack cheese and sour cream.

“My best advice for cooking these ingredients is to just start early,” Morton says. “They take a little longer to cook, so you have to know that and prepare them ahead of time. We find they hold really well.”

A vegan essential

At Mean Greens, the vegan/vegetarian dining hall at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, Carla Trujillo, culinary operations chef, says pulses are essential in making vegan patties for the dining hall’s panini bar, as well as for soups, casseroles and local dishes such as enchiladas and quesadillas.

“I enjoy using [pulses] because they were a part of my diet growing up in Venezuela,” Trujillo says. “They are low in fat, rich in phytonutrients and full of fiber. They also take on the flavors of various spices, herbs and stocks really well.”

One way Trujillo uses these ingredients is in a garbanzo-bean burger. She starts by mixing together olive oil, chopped sweet yellow onions, garlic, walnuts, cilantro, ground cumin and flour. Before adding the beans, she mashes them in a food processor, being careful not to over process them. (Trujillo says there should still be partial beans in the mix.)

After mixing in the beans, she forms the mixture into patties , which she pan fries for three to five minutes per side. She tops the burgers with sliced sweet onions and serves them on focaccia bread.

Popular pulses in schools

Lentils and chickpeas also are popular at Dodgeland School District in Juneau, Wis. The only catch: Dodgeland’s Food Service Director Cathy Lamb says canned items simply won’t do.

To get students to eat pulses, Lamb says she makes a lot of soups and salads with lentils and serves chickpeas on the salad bar.

One of her most popular dishes is her coconut curry chickpeas recipe. For this dual-purpose dish that can be served as a side or a main entree, she combines olive oil, ground cumin, ground cinnamon, cayenne pepper, ground ginger, ground coriander, curry powder, chopped yellow onion and minced garlic. She sautes the mixture over medium-high heat for 12 minutes, until the onion is translucent, and then adds coconut milk, water, garbanzo beans and salt to taste. She lets that simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes until the mixture is slightly reduced. Sometimes, she’ll even add in a mild chicken base.

“My advice for working with [pulses] would be to not be afraid to try adding flavors—herbs, stock, whatever you like, give it a try,” Lamb says. “If it doesn’t work, feel free to try something else.”

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