Stay on the pulse of healthful eating

Farm Forum

“Julie, you’ve been chopped!”

If you watch a popular TV show on the Food Network, you might be familiar with this sentence. After professional chefs examine the recipes created by the handful of contestants, one amateur chef is asked to leave.

Fortunately, I didn’t hear those four words during a workshop I recently attended at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California. We worked with patient professional chefs, who didn’t yell or throw things as some of the TV chefs do for dramatic effect.

We were provided with uniforms that made us look like chefs, including foot-high white chef’s hats (or “toques”) and long, white lab coats. In the morning, we had two hours to produce several recipes and then we feasted on our classmates’ creations.

Our workshop focused on incorporating “pulse” foods into recipes, especially kid-friendly ones that might be applicable in school lunch programs. We had an abundance of lentils, chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), split peas and the flours made from these foods, plus a full pantry and refrigerator.

Pulse foods are highly nutritious. In this usage, “pulse” has no relation to the speed of your heart beat. Historically, the word “pulse” means “porridge” or “thick soup.”

I admit that my own pulse rate rose during the cooking challenges, though.

Pulse foods are rich in fiber, protein and several vitamins and minerals. They have a neutral taste, and they inspired some creative and exotic recipes by the professional and amateur chefs.

I needed to adjust my cautious, measured approach to cooking and get a little wild in the kitchen during this workshop. They provided this food scientist with a food-related task and a scarcity of measuring equipment.

“Forget chemistry lab procedures and scales,” I said to myself. However, next time, I’m bringing a “kitchen tool belt,” I thought to myself as I searched for measuring spoons.

We had plenty of sharp knives and cutting boards, though. I sharpened my cutting skills and fortunately didn’t lose any fingers.

We had actual recipes to use during our first cooking exercise. My “garden burger” included chickpeas, carrots, tomatoes, onions and potatoes, and it turned out fairly well, even though the powerful gas stove was a little intimidating.

All I need to do is light my lab coat on fire on the blue-flamed stove, I thought as I rolled the loose sleeves to my elbows. After I adjusted my lab coat, I was a little worried about igniting my pan of oil. Thinking back, I could have forged some measuring spoons if I melted a steel pan over those robust blue flames.

In the afternoon, we were issued a challenge: Make a creative, tasty dish that includes pulse foods without a recipe within two hours, then have the chef-instructor critique it. I agreed to invent a pizza with a crust that included lentil flour and lentils, and chickpeas on top.

With a little rapid-fire experimentation, I created a fairly decent crust from water, yeast, pastry flour, lentil flour, lentils and a pinch of oregano and dash of basil from the spice rack.

“No, those aren’t chocolate chips in the crust. They’re lentils,” I told a couple of people. I guess my crust looked a little bit like chocolate chip cookie dough.

With some technical assistance from our team chef, I made my first-ever pesto sauce from fresh basil, spinach, olive oil and salt, layered it on my par-baked crust and topped it with chickpeas, mushrooms and onions sautéed in garlic-infused oil, grilled chicken, sliced tomatoes and three types of cheese.

If I had more time, who knows what else might have landed on that pizza. I needed to bake my creation within our time limit, though. In the end, the chef-instructor had nice things to say to everyone. I held my breath when he was tasting my pizza: he didn’t know I was watching his reaction.

He studied it intently. I winced, then I saw him nod his head. In fact, almost all of my pizza was eaten by my classmates.

Do a little experimenting with food in your kitchen. Try adding some lentils to chili, taco meat, meatloaf, soup or spaghetti sauce to increase the fiber content. Add chickpeas or lentils to minestrone or vegetable soup. Most of us shortchange our diets in fiber content, and pulse foods can help you meet the goal.

Pulse foods can count toward the “vegetable group” recommendation or the “protein foods group” recommendation. Nutrition experts recommend that we get 1.5 cups of beans, peas or lentils per week as part of the average 2,000-calorie diet.

Here is a recipe we have made in our campus kitchens. You will need measuring cups and spoons. Visit for more information and several pulse-containing recipes.

Mexican Tostadas With

Lentils and Black Beans

1/3 c. lentils

1 1/3 c. water

2 Tbsp. canola oil

1 pound chicken breast, boneless and skinless

2/3 c. green onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (16-ounce) jar chunky salsa

1 c. black beans, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 c. bell pepper, chopped

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. salt

8 tostadas

Assorted toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, black olives

In a medium saucepan, bring lentils and water to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender (about 15 minutes). In a frying pan, cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Heat oil in a separate pan and sauté onion and garlic in oil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and add salsa, lentils, black beans, bell pepper and seasonings. Shred or cube chicken and add to the salsa mixture. Continue cooking until heated through. Portion onto tostadas and top with your favorite toppings.

Makes eight servings. Each tostada (without extra toppings) has 220 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 15 g of protein, 21 g of carbohydrate and 3 g of fiber.