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.

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