Updated November 2011.
I missed the 18th Annual National Lentil Festival in Pullman, Washington, last week.
I missed out on a lot of good stuff.
The Lentil Pancake Breakfast. The Legendary Lentil Cookoff. The crowning of the Little Lentil King and Queen. And the Tour de Lentil 100K Bike Ride through the Palouse region of eastern Washington and Idaho, where more than one-third of this country's lentils are grown.
According to the USA Dry Pea, Lentil and Chickpea Council, farmers on the Palouse grow 500 million pounds of dry peas and lentils every year — which sounds like a lot, doesn't it? (On their web site, they claim this is the weight of 250,000 Volkswagons.) Canada is the world's largest producer of lentils, with Saskatchewan the primary growing area.
Like other legumes, lentils are packed with the nutrients, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and folic acid that help control blood sugar, and contribute to overall heart health. They're low-cal (only 230 calories per cooked cup), low-fat, and low-cost, too.
An ancient food that probably originated in the Fertile Crescent (what's now Syria, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, and parts of Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Iran), lentils inspire passion in the cuisines of many countries, including India, Turkey, and Italy, where they're popular on New Year's menus; the shape resembles tiny coins, and people eat them to bring good fortune in the new year.
To me, one of the measures of a good soup cook is whether he or she can make a robust, earthy, flavorful, and comforting lentil soup. When I'm in the mood for something bean-ish, but haven't remembered to soak my dry beans ahead of time, lentils are perfect; they don't need a pre-soak and they're not fussy.
One-of-everything lentil soup
All you have to remember about this soup is the number one. Add one small diced carrot, if you wish; I'm not especially fond of cooked carrot, but it will add a bit of sweetness to the soup. Serves 3-4, and makes a spectacular lunch with salad and a grilled cheese sandwich on the side.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 cup lentils
1 quart chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium storebought)
1 potato, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 cup water
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
In a three-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, and sauté for 2 minutes, until translucent. Add lentils and stock. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Add potato, tomato, and water, and continue to cook until potatoes and lentils are cooked through. If you're using homemade stock, you may need to add salt at this point; if storebought stock (I use Swanson 99% Fat Free), you'll have plenty of salt in the soup. Season with lots of fresh black pepper to taste.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Slow-cooker Indian-spiced lentils
Lentils with spinach and preserved lemon
Vegan barley and lentil pilaf with mushrooms and spinach
Lentils and brown rice
Sweet potato, lentil and raisin stew
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Sausage and lentils with fried sage, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Mediterranean wheatberry salad with lentils and chickpeas, from Food Blogga
Vegetarian lentil burgers, from 101 Cookbooks
Spanish lentils and mushrooms, from Herbivoracious
Warm salad of roast beets, lentils and balsamic onions, from The Stone Soup
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