If I told you the United Nations declared 2016 the ‘international year of pulses’ you’d probably think it was time to get your heart rate in order. It actually wasn’t until fairly recently that I discovered the term “pulse” as in beans, lentils and chickpeas.

Unlike other edible plants, pulses are actually left in the field to dry before harvesting, giving them a longer shelf life, making them ideal for storing. In addition, pulses are inexpensive and highly nutritious. They’re packed with protein, fiber and antioxidants, and are used often as a swap for beef or other animal products.

Increasing the demand for these heart-healthy foods, could yield a dramatic decrease in our carbon footprint, reducing reliance on chemical fertilizers by recycling nutrients back into the soil.

For maximum health benefits, pulses should be soaked overnight to be ready for cooking. After soaking, they are drained and then cooked in water or broth until soft. The cooking time will depend on the variety of pulse, so take note of any package directions. Some, like red lentils, will be ready in just 15 minutes.

You can cut down on prep time by purchasing canned, boxed or even frozen cooked beans, peas and lentils, but be sure to rinse canned items to reduce the sodium content. This is also a good reason to start with dried beans, as in Napa’s Rancho Gordo. You can control the sodium, and the texture and flavor are superior to canned.

For great ways to use pulses:

— Add cooked pulses to your favorite green salad recipe. Lentils are awesome for this, but try mung bean or adzuki beans, too.

— Make Lentil Sloppy Joes.

— Stuff pulses into tortillas with fresh vegetables for tasty tacos.

— Mix pulses with cooked rice for an easy, complete protein meal.

— Blend pulses into creamy soups such as Black Bean Soup.

— Make a grain-based salad and incorporate pulses and nuts.

— Mash pulses for sandwich fillings, as in hummus pita made with garbanzo beans

Purée into flavorful dips

Cook and freeze large batches ahead of time so you have a ready-made meal component.

White Beans with Pancetta, Zucchini and Sage

Serves 4

For this recipe using Rancho Gordo Ayocote Blanco beans, it’s best to pre-soak them overnight. This will reduce gas on the stove (as in cooking time), and gas in your body (as in, uh-huh.) There is some debate on whether or not to save the water you have soaked them in. I opt not to, since we have just leached out the very molecules that “turn up the music.” BUT, I do save the cooking water, as up to 35 percent of the nutrients are there. Omit pancetta to make it vegetarian/vegan.

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2 cups dried white beans, pre-soaked and drained

2 ounces pancetta* (I saved about 1/3 for crispy garnish)

4-6 large fresh sage leaves, 4 chopped, 4 for garnish

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half

3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for serving

1 medium zucchini, julienned

Salt and pepper

Place all ingredients except zucchini in large pot and cover with approximately 6 cups pure water. (You might need to add more later.) Cook on high simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom.

Meantime, cook up remaining pancetta in skillet until crispy and break up into small pieces. Take strands of zucchini and place into pot with warm beans. Let them wilt for about 3 minutes.

To serve, drizzle with a bit more olive oil and top with crispy pancetta and sprig of sage.

Karen Schuppert is your local nutritionist promoting a healthy appetite for a thriving Napa. For more recipes and information visit her website www.karenschuppert.com