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Pulses on Air - The Food Programme celebrates the International Year of Pulses

BBC Radio 4's Food Programme investigates pulses from Britain and further afield to mark the UN International Year of Pulses. Hodmedod's Nick Saltmarsh joined Sheila Dillon, Jenny Chandler and Sanjay Kumar in discussion at the BBC's Bristol studios. Tune in to Radio 4 at 12.30pm on Sunday 31st July or 3.30pm on Monday 1st August - or listen later (or again!) online.

Pulses on Air - The Food Programme celebrates the International Year of Pulses

On a hot June day I tramped across Bristol with Hodmedod's bean museum (our collection of pulses growing on the farms we work with and on our trial plots) to join Food Programme presenter Sheila Dillon, Bristol cook and UN pulse ambassador (yes, really!) Jenny Chandler and Cornish community chef Sanjay Kumar for a discussion of beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and other lesser known members of the legume family.

It was a shock to find that Sheila Dillon, though a lover of good food, was something of a pulse sceptic, thinking of them as rather dull if wholesome stalwarts of the store cupboard. This was all the more surprising as she harbours fond memories of parched peas, one of Britain's tastiest traditional pulse dishes, from her Lancashire childhood.

It is indeed somewhat unfortunate that "beans" means just one thing to most Brits. Baked beans have their place but the version that we've taken to our national heart is possibly the most insipid and overly sweet of all pulse dishes, the result of wartime rationing rather than culinary inspiration.

Beyond the ubiquitous can, the British often take a dim view of pulses simply because they're so healthy and nutritious. Can something so wholesome also be good to eat? Yes it can!

Pulses carry a heavy historical burden as a food of the poor, not just in this country but around much of the world. As an affordable source of protein and other nutrients they play a crucial role in the diets of those who can't afford (or chose not to) get their protein from meat or dairy foods, but are then shunned by more affluent meat-eaters. But we are at last coming to realise that simple "peasant food" can also be among the most delicious, embracing everyday foods of the Middle East and Asia like falafels, hummus, ful medames and dhal

Fortunately Sheila couldn't have faced three more passionate advocates of the "little marvels" that are pulses, though we all shared a feeling that telling the good news about pulses can sometimes seem a bit too much. Not only are pulses healthy, nutritious and environmentally beneficial, they're also affordable, easy to store, versatile to cook, and delicious to boot! 

We talked about the superb fava beans, carlin peas and other pulses grown in Britain - and pulses like mung beans, lentills, chickpeas and Phaseolus beans from further afield, some of which we're trialling on farms in the UK.

Beans and Peas from British Farms - Hodmedod's British Pulses

Sanjay contrasted the British ambivalence towards pulses with the central part they play in the cuisine of his native Bihar, cooking up a superb sambhar of moong dal (split mung beans) that was enthusiastically devoured by all in the studio and clearly impressed Sheila with its vibrant flavour and colour, the fresh ingredients under-pinned by the sustaining and satisfying moong dal.

Jenny followed with a classic pulse recipe from closer to home - a classic Black Country grey peas and bacon using Hodmedod's "Black Badger" Carlin Peas. It's a simple but wonderfully satisfying dish combining the nutty flavour of the peas with the smokiness of the bacon, a subtle vinegary tang, and the creaminess of pearl barley. All in all we concluded that it makes a perfect British answer to risotto.

Grey Peas and Bacon - Carlin Peas cooked by Jenny Chandler

What with fava beer to wash it all down (very popular!) and some chocolate covered yellow peas to finish (not quite so much enjoyed) the discussion-cum-feast ended with unanimous acclaim for pulses. I think it's fair to say that Sheila Dillon is a convert.

Tune in to Radio 4 at 12.30pm this Sunday or at 3.30pm on Monday to share the passion for pulses - or listen later (or again!) online.

Nick Saltmarsh
Nick Saltmarsh


1 Response

Tony Inga
Tony Inga

July 31, 2016

Intriguing insight in to pulses on R4 and will definitely be trying out the Black Badger recipes do one of your selection packs! As a cookbook collector is there a book out that does justice to the sheer variety of recipes from across the world?

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