Grains and Pulses

As a general rule, the base of my meal is either pasta, potato or rice with some kind of tomato- or cheese-based sauce. In an effort to branch out a little and increase my options, I've been looking into the grains and pulses that are out there. Here's what I've learnt so far, with some links to recipes I've either tried (in which case they'll be internal links) or am hoping to try soon (so the link will take you off-site).


Whole grains are an important source of carbohydrates and can form the base to almost any kind of meal. Common grains include wheat, rice and oats - but there are many more that just those.

  • Barley - pearl barley is the refined version, often added to soups
  • Corn - a gluten-free grain found in dozens of different forms
  • Quinoa - pronounced keen-wa; actually the seed of a grass
  • Bulghar wheat - follow links for two different tabbouleh recipes
  • Semolina - used to make pasta and cous-cous, as well as pudding
  • Oats - high in protein and oils, oats help lower cholesterol
  • Rice - choose the brown version for its vitamins and minerals
As is true in all cases, whole grain is much better health-wise: more vitamins, more fibre, more protein. The germ (the bit at the base) and the endosperm (the coating round the core) contain most of that stuff, and the more refined the grain is, the more is stripped away. Fibre is important for keeping your bowels moving properly and also helps prevent bowel disorders including bowel cancer. Choose whole grain! Refined grains such as white bread or white rice are topped up with vitamin supplements to make up for the vitamins lost in the refining process, but why remove something and add it back chemically when you could just have it there naturally?


Pulses, also known as legumes, are excellent sources of protein and iron, so very useful for vegetarian diets. They're also very cheap, much cheaper than meat!
  • Kidney beans
  • Butter beans (also known as lima beans)
  • Mung bean
  • Adzuki beans
  • Broad beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils/split peas
  • Soya beans - contain amino acids, but high levels of unsaturated fat
Pulses are high in protein but most lack the amino acids found in meat, fish and eggs, so it is important to eat plenty of vegetables and grains in order to make up for this deficit. Watch out for salt levels in tinned pulses.

Other than from lentils and split peas, pulses need to be soaked overnight before cooking. This breaks down the sugars and makes them easier to cook and digest. Discard any floaters and rinse well before using. It is essential to rapidly boil dried beans or peas for 10-15 minutes before putting them into casseroles etc. in order to destroy toxins. You don't need to worry about this with canned varieties.