Pulses are ancient and have been part of the human diet for a very long time. They are inexpensive, nutritious and rich in fibre and protein. They are also low in fat and have a low glycemic index, which means they provide a steady and slow source of energy.

Moreover, they provide a significant source of vitamins. In Malta they are often referred to as ‘legumes’ and, it turns out, 2016 is their year.

Some tips: when cooked, dried pulses produce more texture and flavour than the canned variety. The easiest way to cook them is to soak them overnight.

Lentils need less cooking time than beans but, if you are in a rush, add a pinch of bicarbonate of soda once the water starts to boil to speed up the process. All my recipes today are gluten free.

Ful Medames

Photos: Gino Galea, Stefan Stafrace and Felix CesarePhotos: Gino Galea, Stefan Stafrace and Felix Cesare

200g yellow split broad beans
2 garlic cloves, crushed until they are a paste
1 onion, half very finely chopped and the other half thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped up finely
1/4 tsp fenugreek, soaked for half an hour
1 bay leaf
1/4 cumin seeds crushed
1/4 coriander powder
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
Juice of half a lemon or lime
Grated rind of 1/4 lemon or lime
5 tbsp olive oil
A handful of finely chopped fresh coriander with a few leaves
Fresh, soft ġbejna (one per portion)
150g butter beans for garnish
More olive oil and black pepper

I recently prepared this Egyptian breakfast dish using a mix of yellow split broad beans and butter beans. Flavour with coriander and top with a fresh soft white cheeselet (ġbejna).

Soak the beans overnight. Drain the water, rinse a few times, then place in a pot and fill with water. Add the bay leaf.

Cook for about an hour until they soften. Taste to check texture. Remove from heat. Rinse, drain and keep aside.

Fry the onions in 1 tablespoon oil. Add the garlic. Keep some of the cooked slices aside for decorating the top.

Roughly mash a quarter of the quantity of the beans and then mix them together.

Add the onions and garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, lemon juice, stir gently.

Add the olive oil and mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Top with cooked onion slices, butter beans, fresh chopped coriander, chopped hard boiled egg, grated lemon zest and lots of black pepper. And finally, add a fresh local soft cheese. Add more olive oil if desired.

Chili con Carne with Pork

75g bacon, finely chopped
500g minced lean pork
1/2tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 to 2 fresh chili peppers, finely chopped,
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp chili powder
A pinch of crushed cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander powder
1 all-natural, gluten-free stock cube
2 tsp instant espresso powder
500ml tinned tomatoes
250g cannellini beans
1 glass white wine
1 tbsp tomato paste
Salt (optional)

I follow a Texan tip and add espresso to my chili. It adds depth to the flavour and pork pairs very well with the milder flavour of cannellini beans

Sauté the onion and garlic and add the bacon. Add the minced pork, allow to brown and cook well. Then add all the spices and espresso coffee. Stir, add the tinned tomatoes, stock cube and wine, bring to boil, then simmer for 45 minutes on low to moderate heat. Finally, add the tomato paste and canellini beans. Cook for 5 minutes and turn off the heat. Allow to rest for 10 minutes with the cover on before serving.

Hummus made with Chickpea Flour

1 cup chickpea flour
2 cups water
3 large cloves garlic
1 tbsp tahini
The juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
A pinch of paprika and another pinch for garnish
50ml yoghurt
Salt and pepper

I use chickpea flour (also known as gram or besan) instead of chickpeas to give a creamier texture. It is also more economical and easier to make, especially if you are making a larger quantity.

Add the water to the sifted chickpea flour and use a hand whisk to mix. Place in a saucepan over very low heat and keep whisking so that you have a smooth texture with no lumps. Keep adding water if necessary. There is no magic formula for this recipe and I found that absorption of liquids depends on the freshness of the flour and the humidity in the environment. Keep stirring and bring it to a boil. It will thicken, but you do not want a very stiff texture. Add more water and stir.

Remove from heat and completely cool down. It will set to a jelly-like texture.

Once completely cool, and you can store this in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week, place the mixture in a food processor or use a hand-held blender. Add all the remaining ingredient. Blend until you get a very smooth purée and, if necessary, add more water. There is no need to add more oil or more tahini; the texture should be thick and creamy.

Transfer to a container and refrigerate for an hour. Add a few drops of olive oil just before serving with pitta bread, water biscuits and vegetable crudités.

Sweet Potato and Black Turtle Bean Soup

200g black turtle beans
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 bayleaf
4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
A handful of fresh mint leaves
1/2 tsp
1/2 tsp paprika
2 cups stock
1/2 tsp honey
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Dried coriander
To garnish:
Yoghurt
1 large tomato, blanched and peeled
1/4 yellow bell pepper (finely diced and lightly sautéed)
1/4 orange bell pepper (finely diced and lightly sautéed)
fresh chopped coriander and mint
1/2 tsp of grated lemon zest

Turtle beans are high in antioxidants and give a great flavour and consistency to soups and stews without the need to use other thickeners.

Soak the turtle beans for a few hours. Rinse and cook in enough water by bringing it to boil, then simmering until the beans are soft. To hasten the process, add 1/2 a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.

Drain the beans and keep 3tablespoons aside for garnish.

Heat some olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion, garlic and chopped sweet potato. Add the spices, honey and lemon juice and stir. Add the stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables soften up. Do not overcook. Turn off heat. Add the beans and use a hand- blender to purée. Pulse the blender so that it is not completely smooth and there is some texture.

To serve reheat and garnish with dices fresh tomatoes, sautéed bell peppers, yoghurt, a hint of lemon zest and fresh coriander.

You can follow Lea’s blog www.goodfoodeveryday.wordpress.com and find more of her recipes on www.timesofmalta.com.

Lea cooks live on TVM2 every Monday, Tuesday and Friday afternoon.

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