Full of beans – how eating pulses will change your life and the world

Feb 9, 2024 | News

We explore three varieties of versatile pulses in advance of World Pulses Day. Here are some recipes that turn’magic beans’ into delicious dinners, guided by chef Ali Honour

What can you make with beans? Ali Honour has been a chef for over 30 years and believes that this is the wrong question. “What can you not do with beans?” “I haven’t figured out the answer yet,” she says. “And I hope I never do. “I hope I die asking the same question while I’m eating beans.”

It was a no brainer for Honour to join the Beans is How campaign, which aims at doubling global consumption of legumes and pulses by 2028. She has loved all of these since she was a child, when her grandparents and parents would harvest peas and runner beans from their gardens. They’re easy to plant, says Honour. “We ate a lot of them growing up as there were many mouths to feed.

She says that legumes and pulses are “wins for people and planet”. “They are an amazing plant protein. They’re cheap, rich in fiber, and extremely nutritious. They require less water than other crops to grow and are good for the soil as they fix nitrogen.

All hail the Bean Queen. Chef Ali Honour wants us to eat more pulses. Image: Joleen cronin

Honour, who has worked in kitchens ever since she was 13, uses her culinary skills to convert even the most bean-sceptics. She’s currently preparing for an ‘everyone loves beans’ event at Google’s London HQ for World Pulses Day, which is this year on 10 February. She’ll be cooking for 3,500 employees. She hopes to set the pulses racing in a few weeks with a fine-dining dinner for 20 people at Fortnum & Mason in London. She has a wide range of audiences, both in size and age. She recently led a workshop in her daughter’s kindergarten, reading Jack and the Beanstalk and snacking on sugar-snap and mangetout to a class four-year-olds.

Honour squirms when asked to select her favourite pulses. It’s as if she was asked to choose her favorite child. She says, “I love all of them dearly.” She is willing to share three of her favorites…

1. Lentils

Lentils are a comfort food that is always available for Honour. “Dhal is one of my favourite meals to eat when I am feeling down or things aren’t going well,” she says. “I love to make a really spicy dhal with red lentils and coconut, then add whatever vegetables I have in my fridge or are in season.”

Green and brown lentils are handy for making mushroom rissoles or cassoulet. “Lentils can be used in so many different ways, and they are rich in polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, just like beans,” Honour explains. Lentils can be cooked quickly and easily from scratch. All you have to do is rinse them, bring them up to boil, and then simmer them for 20-25 minutes or until they are tender.

Like beans, lentils are rich in polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Betty Subrizi

2. Butterbeans

“Butterbeans can be described as meaty nuggets that are absolutely gorgeous,” says Honour, and they are perfect for introducing carnivores into the world of pulses and beans. “I find that meat-lovers will love butterbeans, because they are so meaty and creamy. The giant ones are high in potassium and have a great texture.

One of her favorite dishes is giant butterbeans in a “really delicious, reduced red wine tomato paste, with lots of parmesan or feta, or a vegan alternative, and really good, toasted bread with some oil on it.”

Honour says that dipping the bread in the sauce and scooping it up makes for a deliciously satisfying meal. It’s a great introduction for those who may not have their finger on pulse yet.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, growing beans is less intensive than animal farming, which emits more greenhouse gases than all transportation combined. “If meat eaters can reduce their meat consumption and incorporate beans into the diet, they are doing the world an enormous favour,” Honour says.

Pulses are a great source of protein. They’re also cheaper, healthier, more ethical and better for the environment. Find out how pulses can transform your diet for the better.

3. Borlotti beans

Honour loves to serve these speckled beauties alongside roasted vegetables, such as “pumpkin, squash or roasted cauliflower with lots of charred flavor” and drizzle a fresh herb-green dressing on top. You can use tinned beans or soak dried beans overnight for a quick weekday dinner. Add a little sodium bisulfite or kombu seaweed into the water to speed up the soaking process.

Honour suggests blitzing borlotti bean and baking them into protein-packed brownies, or a chocolate fudge. (Black beans and kidney beans also work well here, she adds).

Pulses are a great source of plant protein. They re cheap, high in fibre and extremely nutritious

Honour says that beans are so versatile, whether they’re savoury or sweet, that she eats a cup of them every day. They’ve had a bad reputation in the UK for too long. Many of us limit ourselves to baked beans on bread. But she wants to change that. She uses them as a blank canvas to experiment – she makes Baked Alaska and cheesecakes with beans. They’re also great for when you’re on the go. “You can make dinner in 10 minutes using a tin.”

She says that she encounters people who are adamant about their dislike of beans only rarely these days. “But as soon as they put a bean brownie into their mouths, you won’t hear any complaints.”

Find out more about The European Food Information Council’s work around World Pulses Day

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