World Pulse Day, Feb 10, 2021

Pulses | Celebrating World Pulse Day

This blog is about a journey of discovery about pulses and the significance of including them in our diet as often as possible.

What’s a Pulse?

Pulses are the edible seed of plants in the legume family. Dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas are common varieties of pulses that most people will recognize. They are a staple in the diet of millions of people all over South Asia. 2016 was declared the International Year of the Pulse by the United Nations. And it left me quite perplexed. Like most South Asian vegetarians, my pantry always contains a colourful variety of pulses, whole, split, and shelled that we use daily. Not a week goes by that we do not have one or another on the grocery list. I utterly failed to understand what the big deal was!

Pulse Dishes

We use pulses in a variety of ways. Everyone knows of daal, or lentil soup, but we also utilize them as a base to make thick vegetable stews that are served with rice or flatbreads. Cooking split mung lentils with parboiled rice makes an easy-to-digest savoury porridge-like dish, called khichdi. We serve it to infants as they get used to solid food, and it is also perfect for individuals who are convalescing from an illness.

Ground chickpeas make a wonderful flour for flatbreads we call poodlas. In South India, black lentils are shelled, split, soaked with rice and then ground up to make batters for crepes, called dosas. Gujaratis make similar batter blends with a variety of pulses to steam savoury cake-like dishes called dhoklas.

I love to add pulses to salads for a hearty lunch. We often stuff lentils into thick bread called parathas. Leftover channa masala (chickpea stew) works mighty well when grilled between slices of bread to make a satisfying protein-rich sandwich. Who doesn’t love fried pakoras, made from chickpea flour? In fact, what do you think papadoms are made from?

The “Bad Hunter” Family

Yes, we enjoy pulse dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between. Seriously, we have so many recipes for pulses, that cooking with them daily is not a problem in our household. This has been the all-important source of protein in my diet for my entire life, as it has for my mother and the two generations that we know of, that came before her.

We are the quintessential family the “bad hunter” joke was made for!

So, it was understandable why we remained unimpressed in 2016 by this “big” announcement that brought celebrity chefs out in drones on TV and radio, beating the drums to herald in the International Year of the Pulse. This ingredient was as ordinary in a South Asian kitchen as a can of baked beans, which by the way, is a pulse. So what indeed was the big deal, here? I decided to research the matter and here is what I discovered.

Respect The Pulse

1)  Pulses are a multi-billion dollar industry, and Canada is the third-largest producer and exporter.

2) Plants draw nitrogen from the soil to grow, and fossil-fuel generated fertilizers are the main source of this resource in large scale farming. Pulses are different. They generate all the nitrogen they need for themselves from the sun. They are one of the cleanest and hardiest crops to grow.

3) However what makes them even more special is that they share! Whatever nitrogen they do not use goes back into the soil for other plants to use. Pulses are “nitrogen-fixing plants”. Farmers who use pulses as part of crop rotation have healthier soil, enriched and alive with a diverse array of microbes. It allows other crops planted on this soil to become nutrient-dense.

4) Pulses are a wonderful source of gluten-free protein, that are also high in fibre. They are low in fat and contain a lot of essential nutrients. They have a low glycemic index, which means they do not cause a fast rise in blood sugar after consumption. And studies have shown that they reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. 

I was floored. This humble organism is a superfood indeed! Right away, I developed a new respect for the pulse and I finally understood what the International Year of the Pulse was all about. It was a humongous deal, indeed. Pulses are how we will feed a planet with billions of people while keeping our carbon footprint in check. 

Embracing Plant-Based

Sustainable eating has exploded and gone mainstream since then. Our new-found knowledge and awareness have sparked changes in how we buy our protein. Veganism and vegetarianism no longer live on the fringes. Restaurants feature more than the single token vegetarian item on the menu. Vegan restaurants are fashionable, even Starbucks offers vegan latte. And most of all, the epitome of meat dishes, the burger, has gone vegan.

Canada’s Food Guide

Amazingly, in 2019, the folks involved with developing Canada’s Food Guide jumped on the pulse bandwagon and radically changed their tune, as well. They shunned lobby groups to stand on the side of science. The revamped version of Canada’s Food Guide strongly endorses plant-based diets that include the humble pulse.

Tiffinday Curry Stews

Tiffinday Stews

We developed Tiffinday stews in 2014, each one containing a different pulse, well before we understood how cool we really were. When we launched them at the Leslieville Farmer’s Market in Toronto, it was because we knew they were delicious and hearty vegan recipes that we enjoyed at home. Our hope was to promote plant-based diets as healthy and ethical choices that people could make at least once a week. We hardly understood or even appreciated the huge environmental benefits that came along for the ride! Since then, we’ve paid attention. We even started measuring this impact.

As it turns out, we have now sold over 1.5 million grams of pulses, and potentially kept over 130,000 KG of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere since we started. And we can’t help feeling great about the fact that, even as a small business, we are fighting climate change in a direct and empirical way.

Tiffinday stews are easy to use. Simply heat and eat. We help you enjoy plant-based meals in a variety of ways, without compromising on taste or nutrition.

Seema Pabari

I am the founder and owner of Tiffinday. As a life-long vegetarian and spoiled by a mom who is a wonderful cook, I love eating and writing about delicious food.