Raising your Pulse on Valentine’s Day

british dal festival plant-based diet world pulses day

It was the first ever World Pulses Day this week on February 10th with the aim being to celebrate pulses worldwide following on from the first International Year of the Pulses in 2016. It is also the British Pulse Festival this week. I think Valentine’s Day is a good day to write about the wonders of pulses.  

Hodmedod's PulsesWhitstable Larder has been celebrating British grown pulses for many years now in our products. I eat a 95% plant-based diet so rely on pulses to help meet mine and my families protein needs, as well as loving them in their own right. Pulses are delicious, nutritious and a healthy food source as well as being incredibly good value.

The clincher is that eating a plant-based diet rich in pulses is good for the soil and the planet as they have a low carbon footprint and return goodness to the soil rather than deplete it.

Here are some interesting facts taken from a paper written by Food & Agricultural Organisations of The United Nations in 2016, the International Year of the Pulse:

85 million hectares of pulses were cultivated in 2014 worldwide, and they fixed approximately 3 to 6 million tonnes of nitrogen. Consequently, pulses contribute to the more rational use of fertilizers, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Including pulses in crop rotations reduces the risks of soil erosion and depletion.

Multiple cropping systems, such as intercropping or crop rotations with pulses, have a higher soil carbon sequestration potential than monocrop systems.

Nick Saltmarsh from Hodmedod’s has long been celebrating British grown pulses by farming the pulses and supplying an increasing range to retail and trade in the UK. Hodmedod’s collaborate with a number of UK farmers particularly in the east of England to help meet the growing demand for pulses. They grow a wide variety of pulses as well as some grains and seeds. Some of these are made into delicious snacks by roasting, and some are tinned so no precooking required! They also spread the word about the wonders of pulses, more recently through the British Dal Festival which runs from 10th – 17th February.

While at The Goods Shed in Canterbury we were early proponents of Hodmedod’s split fava beans to make our humus and falafels as well as whole fava beans to make spicy Egyptian Ful Mesdames. Fava beans used to be part of the staple diet in Britain from the Iron Age but in more recent times had been lost though this is now changing. In addition to the fava bean, Hodmedd’s grow the wonderfully named ‘Black Badger’ carlin pea which we use to make our Mexican Spicy Bean Veggie roll, part of our ready to bake range. Do pop along to Whitstable Farmers Market to try one!

Pulses, in general, are an increasingly popular staple in the UK due to the reasons mentioned as well as a growing interest in plant-based diets and veganism. This, when combined with our increasing knowledge about the importance of gut health and the need for lots of fibre in our diet is leading to a renaissance in the use of pulses in our diets.

Pulses are amazingly nutritious. Hodmedod’s Fava Beans contain at least 28g fibre and 23g protein per 100g. Pulses are therefore an important factor in all our diets due to the high fibre content, not just vegetarians and vegans.

I sometimes have a craving for dal, and taka dal is something I order every time I eat at an Indian Restaurant. I adore the watery dals found as part of thali’s in South Indian Cuisine, and sometimes make my own dals at home. Currently, when cooking at home I often use chana dal, but the best ones I have made use a variety of different lentils. The real trick with dals is in the fry at the end, miss it out at your peril in terms of flavour. Whole and ground spices are added to oil and burnt butter or ghee, and fried onion then stirred in to the dal at the end of cooking. I love using a bay leaf, a whole chilli, and ajwan seeds to add to the fry as well as garlic and ginger. Some garam masala stirred into the dal at the end can be an earthy addition. Salt is of course needed and if you have it a coriander leaf or two for garnish.

I find that of all the foods I love there can be nothing more comforting then this most simple of dishes. It makes a great food for any occasion from a feast, to a simple soup lunch, or a calming and nourishing pick me up if I am not feeling well.

You can find plenty of recipes online or on the British Dal Festival website, or scour recipe books from your shelves or your local library for inspiration. The thing is ultimately just to experiment and use whatever is in your larder to make your own delicious creations.

You can buy lentils in Whitstable from Herbaceous where you can also buy a great selection of spices to go with your dal. This is where I found my latest haul of urid dal and chana dal.

By sourcing from British producers, we are minimising the carbon foot print of the food we eat.  Whilst I love the history of the fava bean and am a great proponent of keeping food traditions alive, I believe that this is more than romantic whimsy for Valentine’s day. Rather, there is a case to be made as has been recently that we all urgently need to return to a much more plant based diet, not just for our own health, but also for the planet. This is not just about buying British, or eating locally grown foods to help with the local economy. What we put in our mouths has much wider implications in ours and our children’s life time as well as globally.

However, remember this is a celebration, not a sacrifice. If you want to keep your finger on the pulse why not look out to see if there are any British Dal Festival Events near you. Closer to home the Wellness Festival will be taking place in March where among many other interesting events Whitstable Larder will be collaborating with  Jo from The Umbrella Café to cook, yes you have guessed it, a dal!


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