Sunday, 30 December 2012

Puy Lentils: The 'Caviar of Pulses'

December 2012

SmartCooks here. 

Good friends brought me a package of puy lentils from the UK.  I incorporated them into a recipe, "Puy Lentils with Apple, Fennel and Herbs" as part of the Christmas dinner menu.  It' a keeper.  

About Puy Lentils 

I'd never tried these before Christmas dinner.  A bit of e-research turned up the biggest fan of the lentils from Puy i.e., famed pastry chef and cookbook author, David Leibovitz, who is now living in Paris.  He describes the lentils (or 'pulses') as having a unique, nutty flavour due to the volcanic soil they're grown in, without fertilizer, which gives them a fine, mineral-rich taste.  Their grown uniquely in Auvergne, France, with lots of sunshine and no humidity.  

Unlike other lentils I've tried (green, red), puy lentils never get mushy when cooked or make muddy type soups that are the hallmark of some of the vegetarian fare I try at The Green Door restaurant just down the street from here.  

Puy lentils prepare very quickly ... rinse thoroughly in cold water and cook for 20-25 minutes ... and serve either warm or at room temperature.  They are fabulous in salads, or alongside meats (e.g., roast pork), or in squash, part of a roasted root vegetable casserole and hearty winter soups.

Health Benefits of Puy Lentils 

Lentils have about 30% of their calories from protein, making them the third-highest level of protein among the legume or nut families (soybeans and hemp have the highest levels).  They are an integral part of vegetarian diets and also contain dietary fiber, vitamin B and minerals.  When lentils are mixed with grains such as rice the result is a complete protein dish.

These lentils are not widely found here in Canada yet.  I predict this will change.  We do grow them, apparently mostly in Saskatchewan, but of course we export them to areas where market demand is strong. 

We're relatively new into growing lentils in some regions of Canada -- here's hoping the supply side grows too.  In the meantime, Whole Foods supermarket and the better health food stores carry them from England or France.  

A box goes a long way -- 1 cup would made three big salads.  If you can find them, there are terrific, hearty, winter fare.  

Bright Lentil Salad, with Apples, Fennel and Herbs 
(Serious Eats, author of French Revolution Food) 

1 T cider vinegar
1/4 tsp sugar
Kosher salt, ground black pepper
2 T olive oil
1 T water
1 medium fennel bulb, finely diced (1 cup)
1 apple (Pink Lady recommended), diced (1 cup)
8 ounces plum tomatoes, finely diced
1 cup of Puy Lentils, cooked, drained and rinsed
1 T fresh thyme
2 T fresh basil


Prepare lentils according to directions.  Some need to be cooked as per above, while others can be found in ready-to-eat boxes or cans.  Most are labelled 'organic'.

In a bowl, whisk the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper until the sugar dissolves.  Add olive oil, and whisk until emulsified.  Add water and whisk to loosen.  Add fennel, apple and tomatoes, toss to combine and allow it to sit in the vinaigrette for 15 minutes.  Then add lentils and fresh herbs and allow to sit for another 15 minutes.  Serve.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

SmartCookBooks 2012 Edition

December 2012

SmartCooks here.  Drats.  Not much blogging, Facebook-ing or emailing from mid-November till now. It was partly work and partly holiday preparations.  (I hereby forswear all things holiday-ish next year by booking two weeks south somewhere in a house/cottage that is warm and un-Christmas-like.  An open invitation to everyone to join me/us.) 

But also on the menu in November-December was the preparation of the 2012 version of SmartCooksBook.  Last year it took me a month to figure out the MacBook technology, iPhoto project formats, converting the project to a PDF (btw Mr. Apple... this is NOT an intuitive feature!), and then figuring out the layout and printing. Self-publish are me.  

I gave out about 50 copies last year to friends and families -- deliberately low key as not all photos were credited.  I acknowledged this and credited where I could.  

This year I vowed that SmartCooksBook 2012 would use all original photos.  I bought a good, but not too expensive, camera that came with a learner's permit aka easy-to-understand instructions, snapped away, and.... promptly lost it a month later in Charlottetown somewhere after a weekend taking photos of some of the amazing scenery.  Luckily, I had uploaded most photos; some (like the Confederation Bridge) are included in this year's edition (see Facebook page).  I chalked it up to a lifelong bad-luck string with cameras. Add to that a year with a new, senior level public service position, overcoming travel anxieties, and general coping with life.  But It means that this year's edition is once again a mix of photos by me and others.  

So, I limited distribution accordingly, remembering that all of this is meant to bring me up to speed on laptop and tablet technologies, as well as social media, keep track of recipes, and is a cool way of saying 'Happy Holidays' to friends and family.  

2013 will be different. Christmas Santa/Husband gave me the long-coveted iPhone5 and I will afix it to my arm to prevent accidental forgetfulness.  I'm still learning my way around it but so far so good.  

SmartCooksBook 2012 

This year's edition features a few favourite appetizers, including 'Bob's Bourbon Cheese Ball', which is a Christmas treat made with Maker's Mark bourbon, only the best! 

This year's revelation was the lunchtime 'Mighty Jars of Salad Goodness,' with creative mixes of salads in wide-mouth mason jars. The fav dressing is a mix of apple cider, ginger and orange juice.  Given my penchant for detail, I searched recipes with exact quantities (like quinoa, vegetables, lettuces) that would equal a week's worth of jars.

The time spent on Sundays prepping for the week was well worth the effort given the 'lunch jar grab-n-go' style I needed throughout most of the year.  I even hauled some jars in luggage to Charlottetown to have at the office.  There's a good pix of the jars over at my Facebook site. 

This edition presents the best of my world-wide e-search for different chicken recipes.  I travelled the e-world to Korea, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Singapore and Sri Lanka to try out a multiplicity of flavourful, mild to hot, chicken dishes. 

My favourite of all of them -- and I make it often -- is 'Michael's Chicken Cashew Curry', made with Sri Lankan white curry from the Montreal-based "Spice Hunters".  They have a terrific internet store and deliver promptly in smallish containers of spices that don't have to linger on spice racks for decades.  

And, yes Brigid, this year's edition contains a few desserts, which as you know are not my specialty.  However, thanks to Smitten Kitchen (Apple Charlotka) and a smidgen of my own imagination, I came up with a few desserts that fit the bill, mostly because they are made with fruit (like apple or pear).  

SmartCooksBook 2013 

I'm planning next year's edition early.  The ingredients are already in place ... 
-- the iPhone5 camera for original photos of food, friends, family, frivolity and frolicking here there and everywhere; 
-- an appetite to research and try new foods;  
-- lots of friends who are also fabulous cooks in styles ranging from vegetarian, carefully guarded family dinner recipes, to desserts and breads;
-- creative writers, many of whom are now 'Retired!' (no, I'm not jealous ... much); 
-- a multitude of upcoming events from baby and wedding showers, weddings, retirements, graduations, deck BBQs, friend/family gatherings etc.; AND 
-- a burning desire for personal, useful, memorable souvenirs of 2013! 

It means this is an open invitation to any and all to contribute to next year's 2013 edition.  Contributors welcome!  All the best in 2013.....