Sunday, May 15, 2005

Prairies North - LENTIL ANTIPASTO

Prairies North - Summer 2005.

I like to buy food in unlikely places. Recently, I bought pinto beans at a flea market. I bought wild rice in a gas station. I’ve purchased frozen fish fillets from the trunk of a car. Why? Because sometimes good Saskatchewan foods are not to be found in the grocery store. Sometimes, you have to get it from the source.

The other day, the postman knocked on my door with a package.

"It’s a heavy one," he warned me.

"I know," I said. "It’s lentils."

He gave me a curious look as I heaved the box into the house. I ordered the lentils through the mail from Cerridwen Farms at Medstead, which is north of the Battlefords. The Dunk and Haubold families are producing organic lentils, peas, wheat, barley, and flax, plus they sell mixes for pancakes and muffins using ingredients off their farm.

I am a big fan of their lentils and split peas, which I buy in bulk about once a year through the mail. Sure, it might be easier to buy them in a grocery store, but then I could not be assured they’re from Saskatchewan. My goal is to eat foods from Saskatchewan whenever possible – to buy locally, support the farmers directly, and spend my food dollar close to home.

It’s a struggle for Cerridwen Farms. (Pronounced CARE-i-den, a Celtic word referring to the moon and the harvest.) They sell their products locally in grocery stores in Medstead, Glaslyn, Spiritwood, and Rabbit Lake, and they ship to stores in Nelson and Cranbrook in British Columbia.

The problem is, there just aren’t enough people in Saskatchewan to form a solid customer base for organic foods, and for lentils in particular, which are not part of the traditional prairie cuisine. It’s too bad we don’t eat more lentils here. That fact is the whole world is eating lentils from Saskatchewan. Since it started as an experimental crop in 1980s, Saskatchewan has become one of the world’s largest producers of lentils. Most of the harvest is shipped to countries like Columbia, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, France, and Spain.

"In the lower mainland of BC, there is the cultural mix of people who are more into peas and lentils," says Dave Dunk. "Lentils as a rule don’t sell well locally, and that’s basically because in our culture, lentils haven’t been a big dish in the past."

Well, it’s time to change that, one dish at a time. Here is a recipe from Italy for lentil antipasto. Antipasto means "before the meal" so this dish would be served as an appetizer with crusty bread and a platter of marinated vegetables, cold meats, and Italian cheese.

Lentil Antipasto
1 cup lentils
2 sprigs of fresh oregano
4 slices bacon
2 stalks celery, finely sliced
1 red onion chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
more fresh oregano, chopped

Cook the lentils in boiling water with the oregano sprigs until the lentils are just tender to the bite (15-20 minutes). If you don’t have fresh Saskatchewan oregano, used dried. Drain and rinse the lentils, discarding the oregano.

Cook the bacon until it starts to crisp. Drain on paper towels and crumble. Mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper and more oregano to taste. Serve at room temperature on a bed of lettuce leaves or spoon onto fresh bread.

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