Lentils are grain legumes, also known as “pulses,”- legumes such as beans and peas that are grown in a pod and cultivated and harvested for animal or human consumption. Lentils have been part of the human diet for thirteen thousand years and are still going strong, grown worldwide, with almost 4 million metric tonnes produced in 2009. Did you know that Canada is the world’s #1 producer/exporter of lentils? Well, we are. Saskatchewan, our nation’s bread-basket, is also big on gluten free grains; it is one of the world’s lentil hot spots, producing 1.5 million metric tons in 2012.
With such a long historical association with civilization, it is not surprising to note that lentils have been mentioned in the Bible several times, most noticeably when Jacob purchases Esau’s birthright with a “pottage of lentils”: “Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.”- Genesis 25:34
They also make an appearance in Iranian, Indian, African, Eastern and Western European culture, in Shia traditions, where lentils are said to be blessed by Jesus and Mohammed, and even in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, when Cinderella is tasked with separating the lentils from the ashes if she wants to go to the ball! (I believe she bargained with a few friendly birds to help her with this.)
Typically a lentil pod has about two lentils in each pod. Each lentil is a little disk, convex on both sides, like a lens; in fact, lentil in Latin is “lens.” These little lenses are packed with goodness: three and a half ounces (100g) of lentils will give you 26 g of protein, as well as vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, and only 1 gram of fat.
They are inexpensive, they have thirteen or so varieties, each with their own taste, colour, size and flavour profile, they are easy to cook, ridiculously versatile, and hello, they are delicious. So why not show the lentil a little bit of love this month?
Well guess what. May is Love your Lentils month! Canadian Lentils has launched “Lentil Hunter with Chef Michael Smith” a new five-part web series available at www.lentilhunter.ca. In the series, Chef Michael Smith, Food Network host, cookbook author, nutrition activist, and food media producer, travels to France, Italy, Morocco, India, and Dubai to hunt for the best lentil recipes on the planet.
“From spotting giant bags of Canadian-grown lentils in the markets of India, to throwing lentils off of the tallest building in the world, to cooking with some of the best chefs around the world, I discovered people around the world share a passion and pride for lentils,” Chef Michael Smith.
In the series, Chef Smith provides lentil lore and recipes from all over the globe, including;
-A hearty traditional appetizer of Moroccan Lentils & Table Bread (Marrakech, Morocco),
-Delightfully Crispy Lentil Fritters (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
-Tangy sweet and spicy Gujarati Thali with Lentil & Basmati Rice (Ahmedabad, India)
-A rustic dish of Umbrian Lentils & Sausage (Norcia, Italy)
-A classic light French Lentil Soufflé with Star Anise (Le Puy-En-Velay, France)
To sweeten the pottage, as it were, viewers of each “webisode” also have an opportunity to win a trip for two to Prince Edward Island to meet Chef Michael Smith and attend the annual Village Feast event, July 4th-7th, 2014. Check here more details on that.
In the meantime, here is a quick, easy and delicious way to enjoy some lentils tonight. Reminiscent of tabouleh, but gluten free as it is lentil rather than bulgur based, this simple lentil salad by Jamie Oliver is bright and fresh, crunchy and fresh, bursting with mint and fresh parsley and lemon and good health. What a great way to get to know your lentils! After all, to know them is to love them.
Have a favourite lentil recipe or tip to share? Let us know in the comments, we love to hear from our readers.