I've always wanted to stand in a lentil field. That's a fact. It may seem like an odd goal to shoot for, but if you know me, you know how much I love lentils. They are a major part of my diet at home, and I love coming up with creative recipes for the lentils.ca website. So when I received the invitation to go on a farm to table media tour with the friendly folks at Canadian Lentils, you can just imagine my excitement! Me, in a lentil field. It was going to happen! I was also super pumped to see some friendly faces (Ethan, Amy, Aimée, and Dan) on my home turf. Food editors from Chatelaine, Canadian Living and Style at Home rounded out the troop, and our leader was none other than Chef Michael Smith. Yes, that very tall, very handsome chef from P.E.I. I was in most excellent company, to say the least.
Jamie Simpson, lentil farmer
The first morning of our adventure we boarded a small bus and drove about an hour north of Regina to Simpson Seeds family farm near Moose Jaw. We were greeted by fourth generation farmers Jamie and his sister Elyce. Before we got going Elyce offered us cookies to fuel our journey. Yes, lentils were in the ingredients and yes they were delicious. Soon we were off again, down dusty gravel roads to our first lentil field. Jamie pulled out a plant from the parched, cracked soil and explained the root system of the pulse plant - how it thrives in dry growing conditions, and how the seeds need a good bit of moisture right when they're planted then they are good to go. The lentil seed is a smart one - it'll always put out a plant no matter what. Given the drought all across Saskatchewan, I was happy to see this crop was still thriving. The lentil field had seen less than half an inch of rain the whole season, and yet there will be a decent yield when it comes time to harvest. This plant is a strong and feisty - no wonder I like it so much.
the light and wispy, yet super tough lentil plants
I could have stood in that field all day and listened to Jamie Simpson talk about the science behind growing lentils. People should know this stuff, I kept thinking to myself. They should know how lentils naturally replenish the soil with nutrients; they should know how good they are for you; they should know that 95% of Canada's lentils are grown right here in Saskatchewan, and Canada is the world's largest lentil producer. Jamie and his sister are passionate about this pulse - I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. They grew up eating lentils when it was a new crop planted by farmers in Saskatchewan - Canada only began growing lentils in the 1970s. This farm and this pulse have been in their hearts for a long, long time. Elyce was wearing a t-shirt that said "I love lentils". And yeah, she does. And yeah, I want that t-shirt, too!
train on the horizon
We boarded back onto the bus and drove to another lentil field. But first we had to stop and watch a train fly by us. There is something almost magical about seeing and hearing a train on the prairie. It gets right to your core. You hear it coming from miles away, and after it leaves you, the sound of it rolling down the line lingers after it's out of sight. Of course we took photos, alas, let's just say I was having "technical difficulties" and don't have a close up to show you, so this will have to do.
Chef Michael Smith in a lentil field
More neat things about lentils - they grow in pods that are connected to the plant (this is what makes them a pulse) and there about about 1-3 lentils per pod. They are a short crop, not growing past 24" and the field we were standing in was maybe just a foot tall. So much goodness can be grown in just a small plant. Super fascinating. There are 5000 active lentil farmers in Canada, and they planted 3.1 MILLION acres of lentils in 2014. Those millions of acres produced 1.84 MILLION tonnes of lentils. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that's a heck of a lot of lentils. Canadian lentils are exported to places like India, Turkey, Bangladesh, Egypt and Algeria. If you ever go on an exotic adventure, hit up a market and more than likely you'll see many made in Canada lentils.
After our trek to the fields, we headed back to the home place and learned about the processing part of the operation. Large, impressive farm machinery shone in the sunlight, as did the neat rows of grain bins. We took in the sights and sounds of the processing plant. We saw the massive bags of lentils, with "Nourishing the World" written on the side, ready to be shipped all over the world. What an accomplishment - to nourish the world, and what an undertaking. From what I saw that Tuesday near Moose Jaw, the crew at Simpson's Seeds are doing it right. The next time you pick up a bag of lentils, know that most of them are grown on family farms in Saskatchewan, just like this.
The Simpson Farm
I've always been super proud to call Saskatchewan my home - my ancestors came over from Russia almost 100 years ago and settled on farmland a ways west from where we stood that day. Farm blood runs deep through these veins. My great grandparents, grandparents and parents were farmers. They bestowed upon me a respect and admiration for the land, as well as hands that know the value of hard work. The triad of blue sky, golden field and red barn is one I've seen all of my life. Even when I was younger and had moved away to bigger cities, whenever I came back to Sask all I wanted to see was the horizon that stretched on forever, dotted with a patchwork of green and gold. How fun it was to see my friends wade into canola, smitten with the land I love. The magic of the prairie, the magic of Saskatchewan had rubbed off on them, too.
Me, in a canola field
Kitchen Sink Cookies
This is the recipe for the cookies Elyce kindly handed out to us at her family's farm. Called kitchen-sink because everything is in here - dried fruit, coconut, oats, chocolate, lentil purée and yes, butter. I tinkered with the recipe a bit, as I didn't have dried cranberries or blueberries, I had dates. So I chopped up 1 cup. I also don't have coconut in the house as I'm not a fan of baking with it, so I substituted chopped cashews. I'm giving you the original recipe with my substitutions in parenthesis. The recipe makes a large batch of hearty cookies, and like Michael Smith said (we had a good convo about baking with lentils - it was the best!) the bits of lentils will almost caramelize on the exterior of the cookie. You won't taste lentils, but know that their hefty amounts of protein and fibre will keep you nourished and happy. A cookie that's healthy for me - hip hop hooray!
1 cup lentil purée
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla
2 large eggs
2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups large flake oats
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup coconut (or 1/2 cup chopped cashews)
1/2 cup dried blueberries (or 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates)
Preheat oven to 375*F.
To make lentil purée - Add 2 cups of red split lentils and 5 cups of water to a pot. Bring to a boil, simmer and cook until tender. Drain off excess water and keep the water. Purée the lentils in a food processor, adding about 2-3 tbsp of water to make it smooth like pumpkin purée. Cool down and use, or package it and place it in the freezer.
To make cookies - cream together the butter, brown sugar and lentil purée for about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and vanilla. Beat until smooth and light. Combine remaining ingredients in a separate bowl and fold the dry into the wet. Mix until well combined. Drop onto a parchment lined bake sheet using an ice cream scoop or tablespoon. I like using the ice cream scoop for uniformity. Bake for about 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. I like mine so they are just set in the middle, and beginning to brown around the edges. Makes about 2 dozen large cookies. Recipe from Simpson Seeds
bags of lentils, ready to be shipped all over the world