I am posting today so that I secretly have an excuse to share this super exciting food discovery: a farm on Vancouver Island (in fact, right here on the Saanich peninsula) grows lentils!!! I know, right? WAY more exciting than all this local wheat taking up the headlines.
Until now, there have been very limited sources of vegetarian protein for the locavores of Vancouver Island, which makes these affordable lentils from Saanichton Farm an awesome addition to our local diet. But, more importantly, now we get to enjoy the lovely flavour and creamy texture of really fresh lentils!
This is a big deal, and I’ll tell you why.
Most supermarket beans and lentils are old, more than a year away from harvest. Which means they lose flavour, texture, and ease of cooking. Tough skins, slightly bitter flavour and mealy texture are only some of the sins you will, or have already, encountered with store-bought beans. It’s like the rancid nut problem all over again.
Many years ago, while travelling in Cuba, I had the luck to be offered a simple farmhouse meal of pinto beans and rice, cooked by the farm wife from her new crop of dried beans (new crop in this case meant beans that had been grown and dried within the last season). The beans were prepared very simply – basically, cooked with some salt and a bit of garlic – and they were an absolute revelation. Creamy, nutty, full of hearty bean flavour, her simple simple pinto beans put all my professional vegetarian cooking prowess to shame.
I have since had occasion to try some locally-grown (i.e., really fresh) beans, mostly from the lovely gals at Saanich Organics, and they are always so so good, just on their own, so much so that I have developed a decided distaste for supermarket (or even health food store) dried beans and lentils.
(Full disclosure here: Jill Rashleigh from Saanichton Farm actually gifted me my first bag of lentils to try out at one of my Local Harvest cooking classes. I think she really did this the spirit of good drug pushers everywhere: the first hit is always free :) Now I am addicted and have bought several more bags. Despite my free bag of lentils, if I didn’t love them, I would not blog about them.)
Anyway, this brings me to my Moroccan Lentil recipe. I have cooked the Saanichton lentils in various ways: in soup, as a mash, in dahl, etc. All delicious. But it occurred to me that I have yet to post a Moroccan recipe. Shameful – I have been back from my trip for over a year!
One of my favourite meals in Morocco happened as we drove through the Atlas Mountains. We stopped at a Berber restaurant and ate lamb kefta (meatballs) accompanied by this:
I enjoyed those perfectly-cooked, delicately-spiced lentils as much as anything else I ate in Morocco (and that is saying something!). This recipe is my homage to both that pleasant memory of lentils eaten in Morocco and to the lovely lentils grown locally in our very own peninsula. (However, you can use regular supermarket lentils to good effect)
This recipe is relatively quick to make for a bean stew, and provides an excellent exotic flavour without having to toast and grind your own spices. Even though the list of ingredients is long, this is quite simple to make.
You may want to reduce the amount of cayenne if making this for children.
1) this recipe will work with regular supermarket lentils, or fancier lentils from a deli. Choose brown, green, or black whole lentils.
2) If you would like to add vegetables to the lentils, add 1 cup diced hard vegetables (i.e. carrots, green beans) about halfway through the cooking. This variation will require the extra 1/2-cup of water for sure. Or, stir in some finely chopped spinach when you add the herbs and lemon juice.
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground dry ginger
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp cayenne
¾ tsp salt, or more to taste
4 Tb olive oil
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
spice mix, above
1 cup finely chopped or pureed tomatoes (canned or fresh)
2 to 2-1/2 cups water
1 cup whole brown- or green-skinned lentils, rinsed
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 Tb fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
To make spice mix: mix together the ingredients in a small bowl until well-blended.
To make lentils:
Have all your ingredients measured, chopped and ready to go before starting the cooking part. Heat a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add olive oil and whole cumin seeds. Let cumin seeds sizzle for 10 or 15 seconds, then add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent all the way through and turning golden in spots. Add the garlic and sauté for about 15 seconds, until fragrant. Add the spice mix and stir vigorously for a few seconds, until everything has been coated in oil. Immediately stir in the tomato and salt and turn down the heat to medium low. Let simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until oil starts to pool on the surface – a very important step to bring out the flavour of the spices.
Add the water (start with 2 cups) and the lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove lid to check the progress of the lentils. (Very important – while you are checking the lentils at this stage, stir in the lemon zest.) The lentils should be fully cooked, but still hold their shape, and most of the water should be absorbed. If the lentils look dry, add a bit more water. If the lentils look too wet, remove the lid for the last few minutes of cooking. (I also find it’s helpful to let the lentils sit, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes to absorb any excess water and finish softening up without over-cooking or getting mushy).
When the texture and cooked-ness of the lentils are to your satisfaction, stir in the fresh lemon juice and the minced cilantro and parsley. Taste to adjust the seasonings before serving. The stew may need more lemon juice or salt.
Serve immediately, ladled over hot rice or couscous. Sprinkle each serving with more minced cilantro or parsley, if desired. For kids, place a generous dollop of yogurt on top or on the side, to cool some of the cayenne heat.
The lentil dish keeps in the fridge for at least 4 days and freezes beautifully. I sometimes make this as a side dish to kebabs and freeze the leftovers in 3/4 up amounts for lunches in later weeks.