Growing reasons to appreciate pulse crops

Tri-City HeraldJuly 2, 2012 

Last fall, I learned a bit more about the many benefits of chickpeas.

And thanks to my wife, I'm learning to like them.

An international group of culinary writers toured Spokane, the Idaho Panhandle and the Palouse. And the tour included an informative and flavorful swing through Moscow, Idaho — headquarters of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council.

It also meant an introduction to the term "pulse crops," which are dry beans, dry peas, lentils and chickpeas. This remarkable food group can help humans in myriad ways because they are non-perishable, inexpensive and extremely healthy.

In terms of growers and the Earth, these crops are remarkable. They supply their own nitrogen, which makes them excellent for crop rotations. And perhaps most importantly, they are extremely water efficient.

According to the American Pulse Association, it requires just 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of pulses. By comparison, it takes 216 gallons of water for a pound of soybeans, 469 gallons for one pound of chicken meat and a whopping 1,857 gallons to raise a pound of beef. Now that's a huge water footprint.

OK, here's the political pitch. From 2000-2009, more than $1 billion was spent on federal research for grain and soybean crops. During the same period, less than $29 million went to research for pulse crops.

Safe to say folks in Congress spend more time at dinner with beef lobbyists than they do with garbanzo bean lobbyists. Another factor might be that North Dakota and Montana — the nation's top pulse crop producing states — don't have a large voice. Washington and Idaho rank a distant third and fourth in the country.

Earlier this year, my wife made a delicious meal based on Country Style Chicken, a recipe from Virginia and Robert Hoffman's 1997 cookbook Cooking With Wine.

Among the ingredients was a can of garbanzo beans, aka chickpeas.

It paired marvelously with a bottle of Dusted Valley Vintners 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia Valley.

The book was published in Santa Rosa, Calif., but the Hoffmans cited several Northwest wineries for contributing recipes. The list included Adelsheim Vineyards (Newberg, Ore.), Arbor Crest Wine Cellars (Spokane, Wash.), The Hogue Cellars (Prosser, Wash.), Ste. Chapelle (Caldwell, Idaho) and Sokol Blosser (Dundee, Ore.).

The Washington Dry Pea & Lentil Commission produces its attractive and informative The Pea & Lentil Cookbook: From Everyday to Gourmet for $19.95. It was first printed in 2000, and its 238 pages come in a hard cover with a spiral binding.

And click here to learn more about the Pulse Heath Initiative and the Dry Pea & Lentil Council.

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