I am totally in love with barley, chickpeas and freekah (green wheat).
As we all know, soaking shortens the cooking time of beans and pulses but that doesn’t mean we remember to do it! I’m like anyone in that I forget to soak them, so I tend to put them into hot water and bring them up to a gentle simmer.
Don’t add salt to the cooking water because it calcifies the pulses and makes them hard and chewy. Rather, season them after they’re cooked. When I’m making hummus, I do add a little bicarbonate of soda to the cooking water: it softens the chickpeas which helps achieve that creaminess that’s so nice in a dip. With some slow-cooked dishes such as lamb soup, you can throw the dry pulses in and let them gently absorb the liquid. In general, I err on the cooked side, rather than undercooked because cooled pulses can end up a little chewy.
I always cook more than I need so I’ve got some to throw into salads the next day. If you’re taking cooked pulses from the fridge, put them in hot water, drain them, then add them to your salad. Tossing them with a hot vinaigrette is a good idea because the pulses will keep absorbing liquid and that means extra flavour.
I’m not averse to tinned pulses – they’re great to have on standby. The simplest thing is to drain tinned pulses, rinse them well, and dress them with a vinaigrette. But I’ve also discovered that you can drain tinned chickpeas, then fry them in extra virgin olive oil and salt until they go crispy crunchy on the outside. Chickpeas and butter beans can also be roasted in the oven to serve with fish or lamb instead of potatoes.
Barley is a huge favourite of mine. It has that slippery, good-for-you texture and it works so well with lamb and chicken. I often throw barley in when a recipe calls for rice, and I’ll use barley or freekah in tabbouli instead of cracked wheat. You do have to cook it first but you can look out for cracked barley, which cooks more quickly. If I’m using barley in a Greek or Middle Eastern style dish, I’ll throw in a cinnamon stick or bay leaf while simmering.
You can find freekah in health food stores and nut shops: it’s that good old-fashioned roughage we hear about! It makes a lovely pilaf, and I also like to use it in a salad with almonds, mint, parsley and fresh goat’s curd. Quinoa is another useful, healthy grain (well, seed really): I make a pilaf with rice and quinoa cooked with spiced tomato broth.
When purchasing pulses, shop at busy places where they turn over at a reliable pace: your cannellini beans take longer to cook if they’re from 1989. Store them in airtight containers in a cool, dark cupboard. Even if you don’t remember to soak them, do always rinse and sort through them first – lentils especially are prone to having stray stones in the mix.