Backpacks are bursting with pencils and notebooks as the kids head back to school this week. The excitement of a fresh start is in the air, and with this fresh start comes a shift in focus on how we eat. Meals need to be simple and quick, yet nutritious and tasty. We want snacks to be healthy, and yet we don't want to find them lingering in the bottom of the lunch bag at the end of the day. That's where pulses come in handy. 2016 in International Year of Pulses (lentils, chickpeas, dried peas and beans), and if you have yet to take the Pulse Pledge, I urge you to do so and peruse the website for all kinds of fantastic ways to incorporate pulses into your back-to-school menu plans. You basically sign up to eat 1/2 cup of pulses a week, which is so easy to do. Bursting with protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, pulses are essentially superfoods. They are good for the heart, manage blood sugar levels and help in weight management. Gluten free and vegetarian, pulses are tremendously versatile. I love adding them to just about everything: main dishes, breakfast, as a side dish and even dessert. One of their many positive attributes is they take on the flavour of whatever you cook them with. Plus, they are a super affordable source of protein. One pound of lentils is a fraction of what 1 pound of ground beef costs. These things matter when it comes to feeding a family. Pulses are also super good for the environment. They fix their own nitrogen in the soil, making them a sustainable crop. Highly water-efficient, they enrich the soil where they grow. Canada is the world's largest producer and exporter of pulses, and if you took a road trip across Saskatchewan this summer, I bet you drove by a lentil field and didn't even know it.
To celebrate back-to-school and International Year of Pulses, I created two recipes which help highlight the versatility and tastiness of lentils and chickpeas. (Beans and peas are tremendously tasty and versatile as well...head to Pulse Pledge for more ways to use them!) Everyone loves carrot muffins, so I incorporated lentil purée to make them healthier and to boost their power to keep you and your kids feeling fuller, longer. With nutritious shredded carrots and oats, these muffins also make a great grab-and-go breakfast or a healthy after school snack. Tuck them into lunch bags, pack them along on soccer practice, or enjoy them with a glass of milk as you snuggle on the couch and watch a little Netflix. I made one batch, ate a few, then froze the rest for later with excellent results. I also like to make a double batch of lentil purée and freeze 1/2 cup portions of it for later baking projects. It keeps well when frozen for up several months. Neat, hey? The best part is your kids won't even know there are lentils in the muffins. Their taste is barely recognizable, but their superpowers are at full strength. You're the one who gets to feel like a hero though.
The second recipe is for spaghetti, because let's face it, everyone also loves spaghetti. Chickpeas are a pantry staple and I always stock up on cans of this pulse whenever they go on sale. I find that if I have a can of chickpeas in the house, dinner is halfway done. For this super simple and delicious sauce, puréed chickpeas are the base, as well as a can of diced tomatoes. The sauce starts out with frying pancetta in olive oil to help really build on flavour. Onions and garlic are added to enhance the sauce, then in go the puréed chickpeas, and tomatoes. The sauce bubbles away on the stove for about 20 minutes, then whole chickpeas, fresh herbs and lemon zest are added in the end. Toss the sauce with hot spaghetti, garnish with plenty of Parmesan and a drizzle of good olive oil. It's carb loading at its finest, but don't forget: winter is coming after all.
For more great ideas on how to use pulses in the kitchen, head over to the Pulse Canada Facebook page and be sure to follow them on Twitter.
This is a sponsored post. I was compensated financially by Pulse Canada. As always, all opinions are my own and I wouldn't tell you about a product unless I absolutely adored it.
Carrot Lentil Muffins
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup large flake oats
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup lentil purée ***
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped nuts or raisins (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients then stir in the grated carrots. In another large bowl, beat together the remaining ingredients. Add the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Add in chopped nuts or raisins, if you like. Divide the batter into the muffin cups and bake for about 25 minutes, until the muffins are golden and a toothpick comes out clean when it is inserted into the middle. Makes 12 muffins.
*** To make the lentil purée, cook 1/2 cup of green lentils with 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the lentils are tender. Blend the cooked lentils with about 1/4 cup of hot water. You want the texture to be something like pumpkin purée. Let the purée cool down before using in the recipe. Any extra purée can be refrigerated for up to 1 week, or frozen for several months.
Spaghetti with Chickpea Tomato Sauce
4 cups cooked chickpeas (from two 540 mL cans), rinsed and drained
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup diced pancetta
1 large onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of chili flakes
1 796 mL can diced tomatoes
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound spaghetti
grated Parmesan for serving
olive oil for serving
Reserve 1 1/2 cups of chickpeas for the end of the recipe. In a blender or food processor, combine the remaining chickpeas and chicken stock. Blend until the chickpeas are smooth. Place a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. When it is hot, stir in the pancetta. Cook for about 4 minutes, until it is lightly browned. Stir in the onions, garlic, and chili flakes. Continue cooking until the onions are translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add the chickpea mixture and the tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the spaghetti until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of water and drain the rest.
Stir the reserved chickpeas, herbs and lemon zest into the chickpea sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the drained spaghetti with the chickpea sauce and reserved pasta water. Season again, as needed. Divide the pasta into bowls and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Makes 6 servings.