A "Lens" on Lentils

  Puy, Green and Red;   Source

Puy, Green and Red;  Source

Having studied Latin for five years, one might think I’d know this bit of trivia, but no… (In fact, the only Latin phrase I can easily recall is “semper ubi sub ubi” which translates to “always, where, under, where” – ah the silliness of an all-girls’ school.  But I digress… the origins of glass lenses are ancient, and it turns out that the double-convex shape of the glass brought to mind the shape of a lentil – and thus lentils (in Latin - Lens culinaris) loaned its name. Turns out that lentils are also ancient (geesh, this blog is sometimes feeling more like a history blog than a food blog). According to Wiki “Archeological evidence shows they were eaten 9,500 to 13,000 years ago”.  The nutritional value is through the roof. How convenient that is easy to prepare and tastes great!

Wikipedia lists thirteen types of lentils – most common in our stores are green and red (I think they look more orange…). I don’t recall eating a lot of lentils before I bought Ina Garten’s “Barefoot in Paris” (2004). If one can’t be in Paris – then eat what Parisians eat! I have tried many lentil recipes (and even have the ingredients lined up for a new one) but this is the one I return to most often. Since I usually have all the ingredients in the house, I can do it on short notice. It is so healthy one can feel virtuous eating / serving it, and if prepared with vegetable stock it makes vegetarian guests happy!
The ingredient that some may not have on hand is the du Puy lentils. These lentils, from the Puy region of France, are in appearance, flavour and cooked consistency different from (better than) other lentils. David Lebovitz (living happily in Paris and known more for his baking) waxes rhapsodically over these so-called “caviar of lentils” – worth reading his post on this.

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When Ina’s book first came out, it was a struggle to find du Puys - much easier now. Lebovitz talks about how to ensure their authenticity – hmmm…. makes me wonder if the du Puys I get are the genuine article.  In her recipe, Ina serves it with sautéed salmon.  Lebovitz offers a salad recipe – though the photo he includes also looks like salmon – so this must be popular in Paris.  Pictured here is my favourite – sunny eggs over top, with the yolks gorgeously oozing down into the lentils. Nice to take a moment to enjoy that bit of ‘eye candy’ before devouring it.

Need more trivia? Maybe it is not so trivial to know that Canada is a huge producer/ exporter of lentils – though not du Puys. About a year ago it was announced that Chef Michael Smith was teaming up with lentils.ca to spread the word.

“Canadian lentils rule the world — no exaggeration — but aren’t cherished here at home. We produced 1.9 million tonnes of lentils last year on 2.4 million acres. Then we exported $1.1 billion of them to countries like India, Turkey, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Algeria. That’s 98 per cent, meaning we kept a paltry 2 per cent of these homegrown lentils for ourselves.”  

Check out lentils.ca for Canadian lentil info, recipes and more.  Lentils are also classified as an edible pulse. Since they are heart heathy, they may be good for your pulse! Click here for this easy-peasy recipe and I bet it will become a favourite.