Adding legumes to your diet can be as delicious as dessert—literally.
A few years ago, the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses—better known as beans, lentils, chickpeas, and split peas. Pulses are some of the most nutritious and affordable foods on the planet, and the UN hoped to get the word out.
According to the final report by the UN, adding pulses to a healthy diet can help address “the multiple facets” of poor nutrition, ranging from undernutrition to obesity. (And an environmental bonus: legumes and pulses are excellent at improving and maintaining soil health, according to the UN report.)
Pulses and beans are good for the body because they’re low in saturated fat, are high in fiber, contain phytoestrogens, provide antioxidants, are high in iron, and are rich in micronutrients, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Beans make some of your favorite meals already—like your Chipotle burrito bowl—but sometimes you’re just not in the mood for a big pot of beans for dinner. Turns out, you can amp up the beans in your diet in fun and creative ways.
1. Black bean brownies.
Once pureed, black beans hide beautifully in a brownie. The beans replace the refined flour in the batter, providing the necessary starch while adding good-for-you fiber. The result is a surprisingly fudgy brownie (and you can’t taste the bean underneath all that cocoa powder).
2. Chickpea “cookie dough.”
Have you ever wanted to just eat a bowl of cookie dough? (Of course you have.) The bad news is, even if you leave out the egg, experts don’t recommend eating raw cookie dough since raw flour can also pose a risk.
Here’s a brilliant alternative: Pureed chickpeas (or white cannellini beans) make a shockingly convincing base for your cookie dough dreams. You can also use it as a dip with graham crackers. Check out this recipe for chickpea cookie dough by Joyful Healthy Eats.
3. Lentil smoothies.
If smoothies are your breakfast of choice, try tossing some cooked lentils into the blender next time. It adds protein to an otherwise carb-heavy breakfast, so you might find it helps you stay full longer—and you can’t even taste ‘em in there. Learn more benefits of adding lentils to smoothies here.
4. Creamy (and hidden beany) soup.
Imagine a pureed vegetable soup like potato soup or butternut squash soup. Would you even notice if there as a sneaky bean pureed in there? Probably not.
This works best with cannellini beans, since they are white and have a pretty neutral flavor. You can also try this with lentils, but they might alter the color a bit.
5. Chickpea pasta.
This might be the easiest one of all since you can buy this at a store. Bean-based pastas like chickpea shells, black bean spaghetti, or red lentil penne amp up the fiber and protein in your favorite pasta dish, while still providing the pleasant texture and neutral flavor of regular noodles. Check out all the health benefits of bean-based pastas here.
6. White bean ricotta.
Feeling adventurous? Surprisingly, pureed cannellini beans, or even chickpeas, can be jazzed up with seasoning to make a great sub for ricotta cheese.
White bean ricotta can provide the cool and creamy pleasure of ricotta, but with less saturated fat. Once you mix in basil, garlic, and the other Italian necessities, you’ve got a perfect filling for dairy-free lasagna or jumbo shells. Check out this bean-based ricotta for stuffed shells by One Ingredient Chef.
If you’re looking for more traditional ways to enjoy pulses, you’ll definitely want to check these recipes out:
Nutritional benefit of pulses. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016. (Accessed on March 6, 2019 at http://www.fao.org/resources/infographics/infographics-details/en/c/412361/.)
The International Year of Pulses--final report. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016. (Accessed on March 6, 2019 at http://www.fao.org/3/CA2853EN/ca2853en.pdf.)