The Canadian Advantage — Lentils
Surprised? Do you remember the last time you had lentils? A staple in French, Italian, Indian and so many other cuisines, they’ve been absent from Canadians’ dinner plates for far too long.
Move aside deep dish pizza, Canadian lentils are making their way into the diets of North Americans. The health benefits of Canadian grown lentils as a nutritious, whole food ingredient are attracting attention this week in Chicago at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo. The prairies aren’t just famous for wheat anymore. Innovation and more creative decisions about which crops to grow are bringing international attention to our little corner of the world.
“Lentils are an excellent whole food ingredient that are a part of a healthy and balanced diet,” says Dr. Kofi Agblor, Director of Research at Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. Research has shown that lentils grown in Canada are high in fibre and protein, and micronutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium, and beta carotene. “In one serving of a 1/2 cup of cooked lentils, consumers get 36% of their daily recommended fibre intake and 38% of their daily recommended protein intake. These little seeds from a legume plant are packed with power and are a low cost, healthy food choice that are quick cooking,” explains Agblor. “They are low in fat, and contain zero cholesterol or sodium, making them a heart healthy food choice and an excellent source for weight management.”
Perhaps the thought of eating a side of lentils more often than you’re used to is a bit daunting. No worries. There’s such an array of products made from lentils that adding more of it to your diet is actually quite easy and enjoyable. Pick up a bag of lentil flour and mix it into wheat flour when baking. Use it in place of wheat flour where you need a thickener for gravy, or in pancakes.
Lentils are the edible seeds of a legume or pulse plant. They’re grown mostly in Saskatchewan and contribute to sustainable food production because they are nitrogen-fixing grain legumes that make their own nitrogen fertilizer through symbiosis with soil microorganisms. It sounds complicated, but the simple result is that the farmer won’t find it necessary to add chemical fertilizers to the soil. All around, it’s a good idea to indulge in Canadian lentils more frequently.
Israeli Couscous and Lentil Salad
Courtesy of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers
1/2 cup (125 mL) pine nuts
1/2 cup (125 mL) small green lentils
18 cups (4.25 L) water
2 1/2 tsp. (12 mL) salt
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) couscous
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp. (30 mL) olive oil
1 tsp. (5 mL) lemon zest
3 tbsp. (45 mL) lemon juice
1/2 cup (125 mL) red pepper, diced
1/4 cup (50 mL) dates, chopped
1 tbsp. (15 mL) fresh mint, minced
Pepper to taste
Toast the pine nuts in an ungreased baking dish at 350¡C until golden brown, approximately three to five minutes. Place lentils and two cups of water and 1/2 tsp (2 mL) of salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside. Boil the remaining water and once boiling; add couscous, cinnamon and 2 tsp (10 mL) of salt. Cover and return to a boil. Remove lid and cook eight to 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Remove cinnamon stick. Toss the remaining ingredients in a bowl (except the pine nuts) and let sit for 30 minutes. When ready to serve sprinkle with pine nuts and serve with lemon wedges.
Enjoy with a chilled glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio.