Chef Michael Smith’s Lentil Recipes from Around the World

While Canadian lentils are a top Canadian export, PEI Chef and Canada Food Network star Michael Smith thinks they deserve a little more love at home. So to promote the protein-packed legume, he’s travelled all around the world to learn how other cultures use lentils in their daily dishes.

Here, he shares some of his favourite recipes from his travels.

Moroccan Lentils & Table Bread

The Recipe Story

City of Marrakesh> Morocco>

Lentils are stars in Morocco. They’re a classic part of Moroccan cuisine and a ubiquitous start to most meals, at home or in restaurants. When Moroccans eat out table service often begins with lots of rustic brown bread and lots of lentil stew to dip it in. This classic combination of whole grains and stewed legumes passed down through generations of Moroccan kitchens is hearty and healthy. Easy and delicious too!

Makes enough for 8 people as a starter or 4 as a main course

Here’s what you’ll need…

2 cups of Canadian green lentils

1 shredded onion

1 tablespoon of ginger powder

1 tablespoon of paprika

1 tablespoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of turmeric or curry powder

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of black pepper

1 teaspoon of salt

2 ripe tomatoes, grated through the largest holes of a standard box grater, skin discarded

2 heaping tablespoons of tomato paste

6 cups of water

a handful of tender parsley leaves and stems, lightly chopped

1 loaf of rustic whole-grain bread for tearing and sharing

Here’s what to do…

  • Measure all the ingredients except the parsley and bread into a medium sauce pan. Over medium high heat, while stirring gently, bring the works to a full furious boil. Adjust the heat lowering the pace to a slow steady simmer.
  • Cover and continue cooking until the lentils are tender and delicious, about 30 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and rest for 10 minutes or longer as you ready the rest of your meal. At the last minute stir in the parsley. Pour the dip into one large festive bowl or several smaller ones. Serve and share with lots of rustic bread for tearing and dipping.

Lentil Tips

Lentils are legumes and like all legumes, seeds. Thus they have a protective coating that toughens when exposed to acidic ingredients. Too sour and they simply won’t cook tender. But a little bit of sour from a tomato helps that same protective skin toughen up just a little bit so it can cook and absorb all the flavours of Morocco without turning to mush!

Dubai-Lentil-Fritters

Crispy Lentil Fritters

The Recipe Story

Burj Khalifa> Dubai

You can see a lot from the top of the world’s tallest building, especially the incredible building boom that’s defined Dubai in recent years. Look closely from the Burj Khalifa observation deck and you’ll find a ski hill in the desert, a pair of man-made islands resembling palm trees, award winning architecture and maybe you’ll even spot lots of tiny little Ferrari’s and Lamborghinis racing around. What you might not notice though, are the lentils on menus all over town. In fact 163 stories straight down at the base of the tower they play a starring role on the menu at Armani Amal, the best restaurant in Dubai. Chef Vijay Anand loves lentils and I love his deceptively simple recipe for delightfully crispy fritters.

Here’s what you need for the fritters
1 cup of Canadian split red lentils

1 cup of water

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 freshly minced onion

1 tablespoon of peeled ginger root, finely chopped (about 1 inch)

1 handful of freshly chopped cilantro

vegetable oil for frying

Here’s how to make the fritters

  • Stir the raw red lentils, water and salt together, cover the works and soak them for an hour or two. They’ll rehydrate and soften considerably as they absorb almost all of the moisture.
  • Transfer the lentils, water and onion to your food processor and puree them until they’re smooth. Add the ginger and cilantro and process just long enough to stir the works together. You can make this batter in advance and refrigerate until needed. The batter may seem wet but it will hold together as you fry it.
  • Pour 3 inches or so of oil into a large soup pot or shallow skillet and bring to a constant steady 365° F using a frying or candy thermometer to accurately judge the temperature. Alternatively fire up your counter top deep fat fryer.
  • Using two spoons – the first to scoop, the second to release the batter – gently drop dollops of the batter into the hot oil. Stir gently until the fritters cook through and lightly brown. Strain them out and rest briefly on folded paper towel to absorb any extra oil.

 

Lentil Tips

Lentils are dried seeds. Red lentils are further hulled and split, a process that removes their tough outer seed skin. This allows red lentils soaking in water to more easily absorb moisture. Given time – an hour or two, even overnight –they’ll rehydrate and tenderize, all without heat. That’s why the lentils in the fritters are able to cook so quickly, in just minutes.

Gujarati-Lentil-Thali

Gujarati Thali with Lentil & Basmati

The Recipe Story

City of Ahmadabad> Gujarat State> India>

Indians eat a lot of lentils. More than anyone else. They’re the biggest consumer on the planet so they grow a lot of lentils too. Since they’re the biggest consumer on the planet, they grow a lot of lentils and are one of the worlds largest producers. Whew. That’s a lot of lentils! Especially in the historically vegetarian state of Gujarat where they’re part of every meal usually in Thali. This classic vegetarian meal always includes basmati rice, whole grain bread, curried vegetables and sweet, tangy, spicy curried lentil dal. This staple is part of every home’s traditional food so naturally every cook creates their own signature version!

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish with basmati rice

Here’s everything you’ll need for the Thali
Indian roti bread or pita bread

A pot of freshly cooked basic basmati

A pot of your favourite curried vegetables

The lentil dal below

Here’s what you’ll need for the lentil dal
2 cups of Canadian split red lentils

6 cups of water

1 tablespoon of jaggery cane sugar, other raw cane sugar or brown sugar

1 teaspoon of turmeric

1 teaspoon of ginger powder

1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder

2 or 3 small fresh green chilies, chopped

1 teaspoon of salt

2 ripe tomatoes

Here’s the tadka, thefinishing flavours for the lentil dal
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

1 teaspoon of mustard seeds

1 teaspoon of fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder (optional, see note below)

a handful or so of tender cilantro leaves and stems, lightly chopped

2 limes cut into wedges

Here’s What To Do

  • Begin by tossing the lentils, water, sugar, turmeric, ginger, chili powder and fresh chilies into a soup pot, everything but the salt. Over medium high heat, while stirring gently, bring the works to a full furious boil. Adjust the heat lowering the pace to a slow steady simmer. Cover and continue cooking until the lentils soften and dissolve, another 10 minutes or so. Stir occasionally. Switch to a vigorous whisk which will break the lentils down even further into a smooth puree.
  • After the lentils have softened stir in the salt and tomato, both ingredients slow down tenderizing. Use the coarse holes of a standard box grater to grate in the tomato, you’ll end up with its skin in your hand which you can discard.
  • Finish with the tadka. Splash the oil into your favourite sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it just begins to smoke take the pan off the heat and add the cumin, mustard and fennel seeds. Shake gently as they snap and crackle a bit. If they don’t, return the pan to the heat until they do. The intense heat will fully release their aromatic oils and flavours. Add the asafoetida powder stirring briefly. Pour and stir the hot oil directly into the lentil dal.
  • Ladle the lentil dal into festive bowls. Sprinkle with cilantro and freshly squeezed lime juice. Serve and share with your choice of thali accompaniments!
  • This dal is usually part of the classic vegetarian meal thali but feel free to serve it with just a pot of plain basmati rice. It’s also tasty served solo as a simple soup or as a dip for bread.
  • India is a very big country with many distinct regional cooking styles but wherever you go spices play a starring role and are added throughout the cooking process. Very often they’re toasted and used as finishing flavours but interestingly all over India cooks use different terms for this same tempering step. Tadka, baghar, vagharne, chonk or phodn all refer to the ‘wow’ factor of crackling spices in hot oil to fully release their essential oils and flavours.
  • Asafoetida Powder is a common Indian spice made by drying the gum that oozes from the tap root of the Ferula herb. It’s a digestive aid and anti-flatulent. It’s also a flavour enhancer so it adds a savoury Umami-like dimension to the dish. It’s widely available from main-stream grocery stores or Indian specialty grocers and is usually sold mixed with wheat powder. If you can’t find some though don’t despair, just leave it out and your dal will still be delicious!

Lentil Tips

 

 

 

 

Umbrian-Lentils-&-Sausage

Umbrian Lentils & Sausage

The Recipe Story

City of Norcia> Region of Umbria> Italy>

Italian cooking is a lot more than just pasta, pizza and tomatoes. In the ancient walled city of Norcia this dish is on every menu. It’s rustic simplicity includes some of the best loved flavours of Italy. Italians are extraordinarily passionate about their local ingredients so it’s no wonder this famous dish highlights lentils and sausage. It comes from the hills of Umbria where heritage pigs roam the land and pasta plays second fiddle to locally grown lentils.

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

Here’s What You Need
1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 onion, peeled and diced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 celery stalk, diced

4 cloves of finely minced garlic

1 ripe tomato, chopped

2 cups of Canadian green lentils

6 cups of water

1 teaspoon of salt

6 large Italian-style sausages

1 loaf of Italian bread

a bottle of your very best olive oil

Here’s What To Do

  • Italian cooks begin this dish with a colourful soffrito flavour base. Here’s how. Splash the olive oil into a soup pot over medium heat. Add the aromatic vegetables, the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Stir gently without browning, in just a few minutes the heat will brighten the flavours and colours. Add the tomato and stir a few minutes longer, 10 minutes in total.
  • Add the lentils and stir for a few moments evenly coating each seed with a thin film of oil. This will help the lentils stay distinct. Pour in the water and toss in the salt. Over highest heat while stirring gently bring the works to a full furious boil. Adjust the heat lowering the pace to a slow steady simmer. Cover and continue cooking until the lentils cook through and tenderize, about 30 minutes.
  • As the lentils simmer turn your attention to the sausages. Cook and brown them anyway you care to, on a grill, in a frying pan with a thin film of oil or in your oven. When they’re done and delicious transfer to the simmering pot. Any juices and flavourful bits they release should also be added to the lentils. In a pinch you can even skip the browning and simply submerge the raw sausages in the simmering lentils, by the time the lentils are done the sausages will cook through too.
  • Cut the bread into long, thin slices and toast, bake or grill until lightly browned and delicious.
  • When the lentils are done, serve and share them with the sausages and crisp bread. Feel free to slice the sausages or simply serve them whole. Drizzle the works with olive oil too. Enjoy!

Lentil Tips

Normally any sour ingredient like tomatoes are added only after lentils have cooked because acid toughens their skin. In this dish though the tomatoes are intentionally added first. The firming effect they have keeps the lentils from becoming mushy. Umbrians expect their lentils to be distinct and slightly chewy!

 

 

French-Lentil-Souffle

French Lentil Soufflé with Star Anise

The Recipe Story

City of Le Puy-en-Velay> Auvergne Region> France>

France invented local cuisine. Many of the world’s finest restaurants are French and so is the world’s premier ranking and rating system for cuisine, the stars of Le Guide Michelin. Le Puy-en-Velay is further blessed with surrounding fields of world famous lentils and the eponymous restaurant of Chef Francois Gagnier. Like any great chef, Francois is intensely committed to the products of his region, so committed that he served me a 7-course lentil tasting menu in his Michelin-starred restaurant. The whole meal was inspiring but the last course blew me away. Imagine a classic light soufflé, anchored with earthy lentils, enhanced with aromatic vanilla and bound together with mysteriously harmonious star anise!

Makes 6 light soufflés

Here’s what you need for the soufflé

1 cup of Canadian French green lentils

3 cups of water

1/4 cup of granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of star anise powder (nutmeg or cinnamon also work well)

6 large eggs

1/4 cup of flour

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar

1/4 cup more of granulated sugar

 

Here’s what you need for the molds

six 6-ounce ramekins

2 ounces of soft butter

1/4 cup more of granulated sugar

Here’s what to do

  • Preheat your oven to 375°F. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Prepare the inside and rim of the ramekins by brushing with a generous coat of soft butter then thoroughly sprinkling with white sugar, about a teaspoon or so each. Tilt the mold around to evenly distribute the sugar then invert and tap out the excess.
  • Measure the lentils, sugar, water and salt into a small sauce pot. Over highest heat, while stirring gently, bring the works to a full furious boil. Adjust the heat lowering the pace to a slow steady simmer. Cover and continue cooking until the lentils are tender and delicious, about 40 minutes. Stir in the star anise preserving its aromatic flavour by adding it last.
  • While the lentils simmer separate the eggs carefully. It’s essential that not even one small drop of yolk stray into the whites so it’s best to work with one egg at a time. Use one bowl for the yolks, another bowl for the one-at-a-time white from each egg and one bowl for all the previous whites.
  • Transfer almost all of the hot lentils to the bowl of your food processor reserving a heaping spoonful for garnish. Add the butter, lemon juice and vanilla. Puree the works until the lentils are smooth and cool noticeably. Check the temperature with your finger, it should be warm but not hot. If its still steamy hot it will cook the egg yolks prematurely. If you can hold your finger in for a few seconds or longer than you’re good to go.
  • Add the egg yolks and flour and puree smooth again. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the reserved whole lentils for garnish. Rest at room temperature while you ready the remainder of the dessert.
  • Make sure the bowl of your stand mixer is spotless. It’s essential that no oil or fat lingers from previous use, just a drop will impede the whites rise. A few drops of lemon juice or any vinegar and a vigorous wipe with a paper towel will help. Add the whites and whip away at full speed until they’re foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue whipping until soft peaks form. Slowly add the sugar and continue until the peaks are stiff but not dry.
  • Using a large rubber spatula stir about 1/3 of the whites into the lentil puree. Gently fold the remainder of the whites into the works. Pour the batter into each ramekin and smooth and level the top with the back of the spatula blade.
  • Bake until the soufflés are risen and set, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve and share immediately with excellent vanilla ice cream!

Lentil Tips

Lentils are known for their hearty, earthy flavours. They pair well with other savoury flavours but aren’t typically paired with sweet ingredients. This is mere convention though, not a reflection of possibility, because lentils are also neutral. They’re just as valid a dessert ingredient as any other. In this soufflé star anise is the key bridging ingredient. It’s earthy aromatic flavour perfectly ties the savoury lentils to the sweetness of the dessert.