Celebrating the International Year of Pulses with Alberta Pulse

The UN General Assembly declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses, highlighting their affordability, nutritional value and sustainability. As nearly 10% of Alberta’s crop acres are dedicated to growing pulses, it is a good time to promote this commodity at home.

Mack and I were invited to attend a recent event hosted by the Canadian Association of Foodservice Professionals (CAFP) at NAIT celebrating this hallmark year for pulses. The CAFP is a national organization that represents chefs, hospitality representatives, food manufacturers and nutritionists, among others. Local branches host learning opportunities for their members, including visits to area food production facilities. In February, in collaboration with Alberta Pulse, the Edmonton branch explored the topic of pulses.

CAFP Alberta Pulse Dinner

CAFP at Ernest’s

It’s a subject I’ve been learning more about in the kitchen for a few years now. After reading Mark Bittman’s Food Matters more than five years ago (his mission was to encourage more conscious consumption of non-meat proteins), I was inspired to start including more beans and lentils in our diet. In 2011, Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan’s cookbook, Spilling the Beans, was released, becoming one of our go-to guides for meal inspirations. Now, pulses have just become a part of our regular rotation, both as a meat alternative but also to enhance soups, salads and mains, stretching the meal all while adding nutrients. At this point, our pantry and freezer would feel bare without having some variety of pulses on hand. CAFP Alberta Pulse Dinner

Allison Ammeter

That said, the presentations that evening were informative, especially to provide a local context. Farmer and chair of the Alberta Pulse Board, Allison Ammeter, shared the following:

  • Lentils fix their own nitrogen in the soil, meaning a reduced need for fertilizer when used as a part of a regular crop rotation;
  • Most pulses use less water, particularly peas and lentils, which is great for drought-prone regions; and
  • Pulses leave the soil better than it was – wheat grows better on pulse stubble.

Alberta grows a variety of pulses: primarily peas (green, yellow, marrowfat), but also beans (great northern, black, cranberry, pink, small red), lentils (red, green) and chickpeas. And though most are familiar with whole pulses, they can be purchased as flour products as well.

It’s also an unfortunate reality that it’s not easy to locate "product of Alberta" pulses. Unless it is packaged in the province, even locally-grown products end up with a broader "product of Canada" label. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if it lists the growing province, but it does make it more difficult for those hoping to source their food as locally as possible (thankfully in Edmonton, Gold Forest Grains does sell excellent organic red lentils). As the Minister of Agriculture was present that evening, I was hoping that some advocacy might have happened on the need for more production facilities in the province.

CAFP Alberta Pulse Dinner

Debra McLennan

Debra McLennan from Alberta Pulse shared some nutritional facts of pulses:

  • They are gluten-free and vegetarian;
  • They are low in fat, and protein-packed (curiously, in Australia, legumes are classified as a vegetable when a 1/2 cup is served, but as a meat alternative when 3/4 cup is served);
  • They are an excellent source of folate and are high in fibre; and
  • They are beneficial in reducing "bad" cholesterol.

Pulses are also relatively light on the wallet, costing significantly less when compared with meat sources of protein. In the context of rising food prices, affecting everyone from consumers at home to restaurant operators, this spotlight on pulses couldn’t come at a better time.

In collaboration with the chefs at Ernest’s, Debra designed the evening’s menu to highlight the many sides of pulses. To start, we enjoyed a duo of yellow split pea soup and a pork croquette which used a white bean purée to bind the meat.

CAFP Alberta Pulse Dinner

Duo of yellow split pea soup and pork croquette

The entrée was a pan-roasted chicken served with a lentil and rice pilaf. The chicken was very well-prepared, and the pilaf tasty enough, but it was a missed opportunity not to highlight pulses as the main event (Indian-inspired dal, or falafel, for instance).

CAFP Alberta Pulse Dinner

Pan roasted herbed breast of chicken

For dessert, we were treated to a lentil fudge pie. The pie incorporated a red lentil purée that could not be detected, taste-wise, and with the added nutrients, it’s almost a guilt-free dessert. That recipe can be found online at the Alberta Pulse website.

CAFP Alberta Pulse Dinner

Lentil fudge pie

If you’re interested in learning more about pulses, check out more recipes at pulses.org, and consider taking the pulse pledge – all it takes is committing to eating a half cup of pulses per week.

Thanks to the CAFP and Alberta Pulse for having us!

The “Element of Taste” with Chef Susur Lee

For three years now, the NAIT Hokanson Chef in Residence program has brought world-renowned chefs to Edmonton, for the purposes of mentoring students who are training in the Culinary Arts program. This year’s Chef in Residence, Susur Lee, not only brings extensive restaurant experience – with establishments in Toronto, DC, New York and Singapore to his credit – but also the most diverse cooking influence thus far. Chef Lee is known for his fusion cuisine; he first rose to fame with his Chinese fare blended with French techniques and ingredients. In recent years, he has dabbled in other styles – inspiration that some lucky diners were able to experience firsthand this afternoon.

NAIT hosted a special luncheon dubbed the Element of Taste at Ernest’s today, with Culinary Arts students tasked with preparing a three-course meal under the tutelage of Chef Lee (recipes for all of the dishes served today can be found in Chef Lee’s book, Susur: A Culinary Life). I was fortunate enough to be invited to an event mostly filled by Edmonton’s hospitality community, alongside a few other local food writers and bloggers including Valerie, Kevin, Evonne, Maki, Mary and Liane.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Chef Susur Lee

The meal began with a spicy lobster tart with bonito. It was no doubt a bold introduction to Chef Lee’s cuisine: puff pastry adorned with tomatoes, lobster, olives, bonito flakes, goat cheese and a spicy tomatillo sauce. The presentation was gorgeous, a decorative arch of red draped artistically over the tart. There were mixed reviews around the table, and I had to agree with some of the opinions that there were too many elements at play – the briny olives overpowered much of the other flavours for me.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Spicy lobster tart with bonito

Our entrees were much better received: rack of lamb with chickpea puree in a sweet olive and spicy cumin tomato sauce. The dish had a vibrant quality about it, and perfumed the air with a cumin-scented fragrance as soon as the plates were delivered. The lamb, cooked medium rare, had been treated with an intense curry and coriander spice infusion that paired perfectly with the mint chutney. There were raves about the hummus, heady and rich. We later discovered (with Allan’s help) that the chickpeas had been individually shucked before preparing the puree – talk about attention to detail.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Rack of lamb with chickpea puree

Dessert arrived like spring, a taste of warmer climes. A bright, fresh passionfruit sauce enlivened a vanilla-speckled panna cotta. I particularly loved the adornment of thinly sliced pineapple and the tang of the raspberry paste. It was a beautiful end to a lovely meal.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Vanilla panna cotta

At the end of the meal, the students, deservedly so, received a standing ovation from the dining room. The service staff were also fantastic today – each course was delivered with a flourish fit for royalty.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Allan (who helped prepare the entrees), chats with Valerie and Kevin

Thanks again to NAIT for the invitation. It was a wonderful afternoon to be a part of.