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Wednesday, March 21, 2007 12:16 am

The lentil’s no has-been

Get to know this Stone Age food, Syrian-style

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PHOTO BY MARK CORNELISON/MCT
Untitled Document Turkey. Check. Egypt, Ethiopia. Check, check.
India, Iran, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan — check, check, check, check, quadruple-check. This sounds like the stuff of an amazing globetrotting dream — but this list is a mere sliver of the places where a little edible disc called the lentil is like a diplomat with a stamp-filled passport. Like a true global citizen, the lentil goes by different names, depending on its port of entry (adas, dal, heramame, lentejas, lentilles, lenticchia, mercimek, messer). The lentil figures prominently in the daily diet of much of the world’s population, but not in America. Here, in the land of presto-magic food from a box, there’s a good chance you know someone who has never tried a hearty bowl of lentils. Even my own mother refuses to sample a spoonful — and so the cycle of ignoring one of the world’s earliest cultivated crops continues. Yes, the lentil is Stone Age food with links to the Mesolithic era (about 10,000 years ago). After the soybean, it’s got the second-highest protein content of any plant (about 25 percent). That’s more protein than a White Castle double cheeseburger. Filled with fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin B1, and five minerals, the lentil is a nutritional powerhouse, plus lentils have a fairly high quotient of tryptophan, the amino acid that increases serotonin levels, giving you a sense of calm and well-being. So with all these amazing attributes, why the disrespect? Let’s join the rest of the world and show some love for the lentil.  

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
Lentils Syrian-Style From Little Foods of the Mediterranean by Clifford A. Wright
2 tablespoons garlic, peeled (about 8 large cloves) 1 1/2 cups dried lentils, ordinary brown or green variety 4 tablespoons olive oil Five Swiss chard leaves, washed, dried, stems removed and sliced into thin strips 3/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves 1 cup water (or remaining lentil liquid) 1 tablespoon lemon juice 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern groceries)
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic until pulverized. Don’t use minced garlic, which tends to burn. Rinse lentils in a sieve. Place lentils in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook lentils at a simmer until tender, between 30 and 45 minutes. Check after first 20 minutes, then every 10 minutes, because cooking time varies according to lentils’ age. Drain and set aside; save 1 cup of cooking liquid, if using. Salt lentils to taste. Add one tablespoon of olive oil to the rinsed-out pot, over medium heat. Add chard and cook until wilted, about two minutes. Remove chard and set aside. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and add garlic and cilantro, stirring constantly. Cook about one minute, reduce heat, and return chard, plus lentils and cooking liquid or water. Stir and cook over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and pomegranate molasses and stir again. Makes enough for six as a side dish.
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