Apr 10, 2013

The Wonderful World of Lentils

When we lived in Milan, Italy for five years we spent every major holiday with “parenti”—relatives of my father-in-law.  One of my favorite holidays was New Year, mostly because of a wonderful lentil dish full of meaning. It was “Lenticchie con Zampone”—lentils with zampone (“big foot”) a spicy sausage stuffed into the outer skin of a pigs foot so that the foot itself was one end of the sausage.  Of course the same sausage could also be had in the less aggressive “cotechino”, essentially the same sausage meat except without the pigs’ foot attached.

The tradition of eating this dish in Northern Italy goes back to Roman times and has to do with the lentils themselves. As one serves the dish one wishes ones’ guests as much economic fortune (i.e., coins or money) in the coming year as there are lentils on their plates. Since lentils are small and it takes quite a few to make a serving people would ask for a large serving in the hopes of a lot of good fortune in the coming year.

Whether or not good fortune flows from eating lentils it is certain they are good for you, a member of the legume family, lentils are grown like peas and come in many varieties—brown, pink, green, and orange. I have a pot of orange ones cooking away on the stove right now for a lentil soup.  Lentils are rich in all the stuff that’s good for you—protein, folic acid, fiber, and vitamin B. In addition the presence of a high number of flavones makes it an important line of defense against breast cancer.

Lentils are also good for your wallet, and are a staple of many peasant-based cuisines. To this end if you have never had a good dal with hot Indian flatbread I advise you to go to Devon Ave. and enjoy a lunch buffet at one of the restaurants. For my money Viceroy of India is the best although Tiffin is the fanciest. Fancy or not the buffets are inexpensive and a good way to experience lentils in a variety of forms.

In Tuesday’s class we’re going to use lentils in a Greek-style dish: moussaka made with eggplant, lentils (replacing the meat) and topped with feta, yoghurt, and other cheeses.  All the ingredients served together make for a delicious low fat, high fiber, high protein entrée that we will supplement with a Greek salad and some toasted pita and perhaps some hummus. Can we all say “yum!?”