Raising children to be good eaters feels like nothing short of a miracle. When our daughter was young, not only did she gag a lot when she was eating, but she was fussy – often refusing most foods that we offered her. For the longest time, her diet consisted of fruit and “noodles with snow cheese.” (What? Didn’t you know that parmesan cheese looks like snow when it is being grated onto a mound of noodles?) Anyway – fast forward 12 years and now I have a lovely 15 year old daughter who is expanding her culinary tastebuds. She is also principled (but what teenager isn’t?) and is exploring the world of vegetarianism. So, in our never ending quest to find sustainable sources of protein for our family, I jumped at the chance to learn more about Pulses last weekend at the Culinary Institute of America at the Greystone campus in Napa.
I was raised by a foodie family in the Bay Area, a place known for its local agriculture and savvy in the ways of all things gastronomy. Even so, I was only faintly aware of the term “pulses.” Given that the United Nations has declared 2016 the Year of the Pulse, it was time I learned more.
What’s a Pulse?
It turns out that pulses are dried peas & beans, chickpeas & lentils, ingredients that I was already familiar with. They are eaten all over the world and are an affordable, nutritious ingredient that anyone can integrate into her diet – and with 9 grams of protein in just a 1/2 cup serving, why not?. As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, perhaps my favorite features of these types of crops are how sustainable they are to grow. Not only do they require very little water, but they return Nitrogen to the soil, allowing farmers to add fewer synthetics to the earth. (More on this topic soon, I promise…)
I enjoyed having the tables turned for the weekend, rotating my place in the front of the classroom to a comfortable seat in the classroom. The instructors were entertaining and informative, but the most exciting part of the weekend was getting to cook pulses and learn about how to use them in the teaching kitchens upstairs. After teaching cooking classes to children in school classrooms, recreation centers, and even on picnic tables, this was quite a treat!
We broke into teams and created a feast. More than once.
Lucky for me, we got to take home a binder of recipes that reveals the true flexibility of pulses. Appetizers? Check. Salads? Check. Entrees? Check. Desserts? Wait a second… Yep – there are loads of ways to use pulses in desserts. More on that another time.
I’m pretty excited about using pulses. Of course, I took the Pulse Pledge, a promise to myself to eat pulses at least once a week for the next 10 weeks. It’s the perfect way to show my family how versatile this ingredient is. I figured that I would start by making a dip to serve with veggies and pita chips at a yogurt class I was hosting yesterday. It tasted great. But there was one little problem. It was ugly. Like, really ugly. So ugly, I had to apologize to the guests and promise them that if they would just close their eyes, it would taste delicious. They suggested that I call it, Ugly Dip. So, here it is. Please don’t be afraid.
Ugly Dip (Lentil and Black Olive Dip)
Adapted from The Culinary Institute of America
3/4 cup common lentils
4 ounces pitted Greek olives
1 Tbs. capers
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 anchovy fillets
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
1 Tbs. dried oregano, crumbled between your fingers
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. lemon juice (and more to taste later)
3 Tbs. olive oil (and more for later)
Toasted pita or veggies for serving
- Pick over and wash the lentils.
- Put them in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a full boil. Reduce heat and cook at a simmer for 20 minutes.
- Check the water level and if necessary, add cold water to keep covered, and simmer for another 10 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
- Drain the lentils – but save 1/2 of the cooking liquid and set it aside.
- Mash the lentils with the back of a spoon (or you could pulse them a couple of times in the blender) and put them into a mixing bowl.
- Drain the olives.
- Rinse the anchovies and capers to remove any excess salt and then pat them dry.
- In a skillet, combine the olives, garlic, reserved lentil cooking liquid, red pepper flakes, oregano and black pepper.
- Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, until most of the liquid evaporates, leaving behind a thick mixture.
- Pour the contents of the pan into a blender or food processor with the capers, anchovies and lemon juice. While the machine is running, add the olive oil.
- Combine the olive mixture with the lentils and mix them together.
- Taste and correct the seasoning by adding more lemon juice or olive oil.
- Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Drizzle with olive oil before serving.
Okay – I have a confession to make. As I was typing up the recipe, I realized that I didn’t add the right amount of olives. Oy. If I had, the dip would have been a richer black color instead of the brown, lentil-y color that it turned out to be. Multi-tasking didn’t work in my favor yesterday…
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