With global food production affected by war and climate change, and the devastating effects of industrial agriculture globally, now is the time to discover new locally grown sustainable crops.
Finding and learning to use those key homegrown elements could be the gateway to not just a healthier environment, but exciting new recipes we can enjoy as part of a more diverse diet.
We sought advice from two experts, grower Josiah Meldrum of Hodmedod’s and Riverford chef Bob Andrew, for their tips on easy ways to incorporate them into our cooking:
Hodmedod’s supplies the only commercially-grown lentils in the UK. Based in north Suffolk, they pioneered the production of UK beans, peas, and lentils as well as some of the first British-grown quinoa and chia seeds.
They are also known for ‘rediscovering’ crops like fava beans, first grown by Neolithic farmers 5,000 years ago, and Carlin peas, one of Britain’s best-kept secrets.
Their lentils are a great example of how we can grow a high-quality protein rich food staple here as part of small-scale, diverse farming system – although work is still underway to research the best conditions and growing techniques. Legumes are nitrogen fixing, improving soil health naturally, without the need for synthetic fertilisers.
These diverse, delicious legumes and pulses can add so much to our plate, and provide sustainable swaps for a more climate-friendly diet.
Fava beans instead of avocado
A great sustainable avocado alternative, mashed and on toast for brunch. According to Meldrum, they also make great falafels instead of chickpeas. “This is a traditional way to make them in Egypt. No need to pre-cook then, just soak the favas, grind them with herbs and seasoning to a coarse blend then cook – it is an international falafel competition winning recipe,” he says.
Naked oats over rice
Whole grain rather than rolled oats are a new trend predicted to be a great UK-grown alternative to rice. “Rice is very water thirsty, and methane is released from paddy fields,” explains Meldrum.
Green pea flour instead of wheat
A favourite in terms of versatility that makes a great batter for savoury pancakes, or bhajis. Try making fritters with foraged greens such as wild garlic, served with home ferments, wild garlic fritters, or use it in a bechamel sauce for a green mac’n’cheese, High in protein, you can also include it in other recipes to fortify them including in a bread mix.
Swap chickpeas for Carlin peas
A really simple swap, just use them in any recipe where you’d use a chickpea, or try an easy recipe box to give you a helping hand. “They have a chestnutty flavour, like a cross between chickpeas and puy lentils, which pairs well with sorrel and bacon,” says Meldrum. “Great for making hummus, or in parched peas, a traditional food in the north of England.”
Many are put off by not knowing quite how to cook pulses, which ones will need soaking, and how to make the best of them. Whereas in many European countries, beans and legumes are used widely and embraced in popular cuisine.
“Across the Mediterranean, they really treasure pulses, using them in a similar way to mash, as both the carb and protein element of a veg-based dish,” says chef Bob Andrew. “They add bulk and protein to a main course, and something like moong dal adds an almost creamy texture – great for vegan dishes. In the UK we do have a sneaky fondness for haricot beans though, in the form of tinned baked beans.”
Best for beginners
No–soak varieties such as lentils (red, green, brown or Puy), yellow split peas (moong dal), and split green peas are great options.
For beans that need soaking, such as chickpeas, white beans or kidney beans, just remember to soak overnight, and then always cook in fresh water. Using a packet from the back of your store cupboard? The age of the bean itself means the cooking time is affected – older beans take longer.
Make sure you have plenty of liquid in the pan to cook them through. Beans are better overcooked than undercooked, otherwise they’ll give you a stomach-ache! Adding to a stew or tomato-based sauce? Cook them in water first, then add to the recipe – unless you have plenty of time to either cook the dish very slowly or can speed things up with a pressure cooker.
Add in flavour
You can season the cooking water with salt. The best way to add flavour is to add aromatics into the water, including garlic, bay, thyme, salt or lemon zest, during cooking.
Store cooked beans and pulses properly
Beans are high protein foods, so make sure they are cooled, stored and refrigerated properly; don’t leave leftovers on the kitchen counter to go warm.