The Palouse region counts roughly 200 miles of land, and is home to over 3,000 family farms. Between them, these farms account for nearly 90 percent of the lentils grown in this country. But sadly, few of these lentils ever find their way onto American plates or palates. Nearly the entire lentil crop is exported – to countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, and India – countries that appreciate the culinary qualities of the lentil.
And the lentil is worthy of appreciation. Unlike beans, lentils cook quickly and do not require soaking. They pair with almost any dish, and are low in fat and high in protein. They keep for years, and are extremely inexpensive. The Pardina, one of the lentils grown in the Palouse, is among the best for cooking, boasting a deep nutty flavor and a firmer texture than some of its rivals, like the more common Brewer.
But like the other varieties, the Pardina lentil is a hard-find; nearly all are shipped abroad. And that doesn’t sit well with some of the region’s farmers. “We have to get people in this country to eat them,” Jim Thompson lamented. “I would really hate it to get to the point where people look for something else to grow.”
Caitlin came up with this recipe to help Americans better appreciate the lentil.
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
COOK TIME: 30 minutes
YIELD: Serves 4
1 1/2 cups of dried lentils (Pardina are best, but experiment)
1 medium cucumber, seeds removed and roughly diced
1 large handful of grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/3 large onion, roughly diced
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Basil, chopped to taste
1 teaspoon Kosher salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons olive oil (or to taste)
*Feta or fresh mozzarella would be a nice addition as well
1. Rinse lentils thoroughly and place in a pan, filling it with water to cover the lentils. The water level should be about one inch higher than the lentils. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Then, reduce heat to medium-low and cover lentils, allowing them to simmer for approximately 30 minutes. When cooked, the lentils should be al dente. Drain the lentils and allow them to cool.
2. Seed and chop your cucumber into bite-sized pieces. Then, chop the red onions and slice grape tomatoes in half. All the vegetables should be approximately the same size when chopped. Place vegetables into a large serving bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, combine lemon zest, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Stir thoroughly to incorporate.
4. Roll basil leaves from end-to-end and chop into ribbons. Add the basil to the vegetable bowl.
5. When the lentils have cooled, add both the lentils and dressing to the vegetable bowl and stir to combine. For the best flavor, allow the lentils to marinate for a few hours and serve at roughly room temperature. We found that they tasted even better on the second (and third) days!