Eat Canadian food but taste international

Lentils are a hot topic among gourmets these days, with recipes for them popping up in most major food magazines.

Sausage and lentil stew  is hearty

Sausage and lentil stew is hearty

Lentils are a hot topic among gourmets these days, with recipes for them popping up in most major food magazines.

Lentil and other legume farmers hope to capitalize on this interest and convince consumers and food producers to use them in breads and cookies as well as the more traditional soups and stews.

Canada is an international source of lentil, split peas and other pulse crops — one which Canadian consumers are only just discovering.

Growing interest in Indian and other international cuisines, along with greater awareness of intolerance to gluten, a protein found in many grains, have fostered an interest in lentils and legumes. A general push toward eating healthier also has made high-fibre, high-protein, low-fat legumes more appealing.

There’s a big bang for your buck moneywise and healthwise in lentils.

Right now, most of the market for Canadian-grown lentils and peas is overseas. Domestic demand has increased with the growth of ethnic minorities, but people generally have become interested in Indian and other foreign foods.

Lentils are an excellent protein source, and can replace some of the meat-heavy diets of North Americans.

Sausage and Lentil Stew

You may wish to use French green lentils in this recipe because they hold their shape and retain great texture when cooked for long periods of time. If you don’t have any on hand, feel free to substitute brown lentils but expect a slightly different finished texture.

If you want a healthier version of this stew, omit the bacon and pour off all of the rendered sausage fat after browning. If you decide to go down this route, simply substitute a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil before cooking the vegetables.

Feel free to use any herbs or spices you have lying around your kitchen. You can make this with everything from rosemary to curry powder with excellent results, so experiment away. Other sausages work well in this application.

2 slices smoky bacon

4 sweet or hot Italian sausages, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup petite French lentils, rinsed and drained

1 cup diced carrot

1 medium onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leave

Crushed red pepper flakes

2 bay leaves

1 cup dry red wine

1 14-ounce can tomatoes, crushed

2 cups chicken stock

2 roasted red peppers, sliced 1/4-inch thick

4 sprigs of parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Chopped parsley for garnish

Set a large, heavy-bottomed pot over moderately-low heat and cook bacon until the fat has rendered. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the pot and set aside. Increase the heat to moderately-high and brown the sausage pieces in the reserved bacon fat. Be careful not to crowd the pot; fry the sausages in separate batches if necessary. Once they are sufficiently caramelized (about 8 minutes per batch), remove the browned sausage pieces to a plate using a slotted spoon.

Lower the heat to moderate and add in the carrots, onion and garlic. Sauté until softened and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add in the crushed red pepper flakes, bay leaves and thyme and sauté another 5 minutes. Add in the red wine to deglaze and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with the back of a wooden spoon. Allow the wine to reduce by half before adding the lentils, tomatoes, chicken stock, red peppers and parsley.

Add the cooked bacon and sausages back into the pot along with any juices that may have collected. Stir to mix well and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for an hour, or until the lentils are just al dente. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.

Stir in the balsamic vinegar and season the lentil stew with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.