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Check your pulses, folks!

I’m always thinking of new or old ways to incorporate more pulses into my diet because they are so tasty and they appear to be having a moment, with the Bristol Dhal Festival this month, in its second year and the huge leaning to veganism that is gripping the world. I'm not a fan of vegan junk food, and so eating proper 'real' food does takes some planning if you're going to used dried pulses which is by far the most economical way to cook, but you should soak them overnight.  It’s well worth the effort though, as you can always make several meals over the week with whatever pulse you choose, and the cooking liquor is really tasty and can be used like a veg stock for adding to a tasty soup or stew later on. I prefer dried pulses to tinned, but no doubt tinned have their place in the busy person's life & kitchen.

Pulses or legumes (think butterbeans, haricot beans, borlotti beans, black eyed peas) are a great vegetable based source of protein, they bring variety to our diet and anything that means we eat less meat is fine by me.

This is a delicious, creamy, comforting dish that I was taught by my first and brilliant head chef in Whiteladies Road.  It may sound complicated but it’s easy and once you get into the swing of pulses, it will be a cinch. 

Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water.  In the morning, or whenever you are ready to cook them, strain off the water and discard.

Bring the beans up to the boil in a large pan of water and cook them on a fast boil for 15 minutes, this removes the toxins and is very important, particularly with kidney beans. Drain them again and discard the water.

Now return to the pan with plenty of fresh water, a stick of celery, a small carrot, half an onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, bay, thyme & a sprig of rosemary.  Cook them until they are really soft, this may take up to an hour and a half. Don’t add any salt until the end of cooking as it will toughen them. 

To make the root vegetable base, dice some onion, celery, fennel (not essential but lovely), parsnip & celeriac and soften in a large knob of butter.  Add some chopped rosemary, not too much as it is a strong herb, and some bay leaves, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes.  Now add a good slug of cream and some of the cooking liquor and cook for a few more minutes.  Put the butterbeans into a gratin dish and pour over the creamy vegetable mixture, which should be soupy, as butterbeans benefit from a lot of moisture.  Top with some good quality breadcrumbs (I always have some in the freezer which is a great way of using up old bread), some parmesan & chopped rosemary & thyme.  Brown in the oven until crunchy and serve with a green salad.