By Robin Wilson

Chef Michael Smith shows us what can be done with the humble lentil.

Okay, I was definitely guilty of it. I’ll admit it. Big Beefy Carnivores are guilty of it, and certainly anyone under the age of 18 whose palate hates on anything nutritious (generally speaking), has been guilty of it.

Lentil hating, it’s very common and it must stop! Give ’em a chance.

Chef Michael Smith has taken the lead as Canada’s lentil spokesman, working with SPG (Saskatchewan Pulse Growers) to help Canadians turn up the volume on this most underrated of crops. Perhaps if Canadians knew more about them and weren’t so deathly afraid to cook with them, we wouldn’t need a chef advocate to try to break it free of all it’s unfamiliarity. But hey, I’ll take any extra recipes to help incorporate such a nutritious and inexpensive ingredient onto my plate. I say “it’s ok to be cheap!”- especially if it’s helping out our super-powered Canadian economy, right?! Unfortunately, the truth is that although Canada produces over 67% of the world’s lentils, over 95% of it is shipped off to, may I say the oh-so-clever, Dahl eating countries such as India and Nepal. Few know that Mr. lentil is such a large part of our Prairie Farmers’ fields. I sure didn’t.

I had the pleasure of getting a closer look into Michael & SPG’s campaign which aims to shake more dinner tables up by getting more lentils in Canadian stomachs. Mainly aiming to increase Canada’s consumption and awareness, the team has developed some webisodes broadcasting interesting ways of incorporating each of the four varieties. Interesting probably not even being the right word. Showcased, with recipes to accompany, is everything from Dahl to Lentil Biscuits to, get this….Lentil Chocolate Chip cookies (Pastry Chefs, you may cringe, but they were yum… no joke!). The latter two you may think is going a little too far, perhaps, but think of little Johnny who hates anything and everything fed to him that isn’t cake/mac & cheese/chicken nuggets. So gets introduced the “Sneaky Lentil”, with recipes that follow, aiming to creep a little more nutritional value onto the family table. There’s nothing wrong with that… just don’t tell the kids. Helps those mothers out. Let’s face it, children can be very picky- I know I was…

I’ve always believed that good chefs are really those who really are concerned and aware of where ingredients come from and the stories that lie behind them. What surprised me the most was finding out that this project brought on Michaels first trip ever to the Prairies. Being such a well-traveled chef, this was a little bit of a shocker. Suppose I can’t blame him for not jumping out of Lobster filled PEI heaven- mmmmmnnn. Let’s not get distracted here. In the end, Michael explained to me his newfound respect for the farmers of Saskatchewan and the impressive pieces that make up an industry many consumers don’t know much about. Being a part of it all helps him feel like he’s doing good in the world… promoting the Worthy if you will.

So point blank, don’t hate on the unfamiliar. Yes they aren’t the sexiest thing out there but let’s just review the facts here: versatile, nutritious, cheap and Canadian. Hit up the local market. I suggest buying in bulk (get a little of each variety)- play around, see who you can trick even. I’ve always thought that close family members make great guinea pigs.

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Robin Wilson is a avid eater who enjoys the finer things in life… including lentils.