Pantry Raid VI: Lentils

The Kitchen

    [AB is rummaging through his pantry] Let's see here ... what have I got? Anchovies! No, they're not ready. Uh, gummy bears. No, I'm not ready. Chipped beef? Six years old. Huh, nobody's ready.
    It's time for another Pantry Raid episode, and this time out I really want to champion an underdog, you know, an ingredient that, despite unparalleled versatility, stellar nutrition, and great flavors, that repeatedly passed over for pantry promotion.
    What's this? Lentils. Hey, that's good. It's perfect. You know, lentils are the victims of a centuries-long smear campaign.


GUESTS: Statues and paintings from many centuries ago.

STATUE #1: Lentils? Of course I eat lentils. But then, I'm above planetary indulgences.
STATUE #2: Lentils? You mean those little green things they pack the statues in? I never touch those.
PAINTING #1: Lentils are difficult to digest, prone to inflaming the stomach, and a leading cause of bad eyesight ... and nightmares.
PAINTING #2: [King Louis XVI] I do not like them!
PAINTING #3: [Marie Antoinette] Oh, do not listen to him. Lentils are wonderful. Silly Louie doesn't know what he's saying.
PAINTING #2: Oh please, Marie. I'm the king.

The Kitchen

    Yep, lentils have had it rough through the ages. That's because all too often, they are associated with poverty. But believe me whether it's hard times or high cotton, lentils deserve a spot—nay, an entire shelf—in the pantry, because they're not just good for you, they're ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

Harry's Farmers Market, Marietta, GA – 10:15 am

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist
            Frenchmen #1, #2, #3

    Behold, the lentil, Lens culinaris. One might assume that the lens-like shape inspired the name, but it's actually the other way around. This critter's moniker actually inspired the name of the device that I am looking through [a multi-lens lens], as well as the one that you're looking through [referring to one's eye].
    Like peas and beans, lentils are legumes, but they've got one really big advantage over the other members of the family, and that is that they cook very quickly due to their unusual shape.

    Now lentils come in many sizes and colors. Why? Well, I hate to admit this, but I'm not a  ... I'm not a  ... I'm not a  ... [sign pops up, "SAY IT"] NO! I can't say it. Ahhrrgh!


DD: ... Nutritional anthropologist.

    One of these days, I'm going to get a court order.

AB: Go ahead.
DD: Lentils come in so many shapes and colors because they've been around so long. It was one of the earliest crops domesticated in Mesopotamia more than 8,000 years ago.
AB: Okay, but what does that have to do with color?
DD: Well, in the wild, it grows in different colors. But as it spread around Europe, Asia, and Africa, people selected certain colors that they liked, and that's the ones they cultivated.
AB: So, any favorite varieties?
DD: I'm a big fan of dal.

    Ahh, well there's the segue way to the variety discussion. Now dal, or masoor dhal, refers to the Indian split red lentil. They're very good at soaking up moisture and therefore very popular in soups. "Dal," by the way, is Hindi for 'split lentil.' The whole version is called 'gram' [pron: grahm].
    Now, other varieties you are probably going to run into: the good old green lentil, which tends to get mushy if overcooked. But it's still an extremely versatile pantry staple. Here we have some flavorful European varieties: Spanish pardinas, and Italian usticas which are very, very small, but they hold their shape well when cooked so that when you eat them, they're kind of like, I don't know, kind of like eating caviar. Ooh, here's something special. These are called ...

FRENCHMEN #1 & #2: [two Frenchmen grab AB and pull him away]
AB: hey, what the ...
FM #1 & #2: [the haul him before FM #1 in another part of the darkened store]
AB: Hey, what's with the manhandling? Come on!
FRENCHMAN #3: Ahh, what eez zees? [FM #1 hands him AB's bag of lentils] Ah, Vertes du Puy, renowned specialty of the Haute-Loire region of France where zee volcanic soil and ideal climate grows zee perfect lentil.
AB: Who are you guys?

FM #3: Zees eez none of your concern. You see zis seal?
AB: [Exasperated] Yeah I see it.


FM #3: Zees lentils was the first vegetable to be granted Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée certification. Do you know what zees means?
AB: Well, sure. It means that only lentils from Puy get to say they're from Puy. You guys do that with all kinds of things.
FM #3: We must protect our culinary heritage.
AB: Yeah, and your marketing options, too, eh?
FM #3: We are not sure you deserve such an ingredient. Do you have any, refrahsez?
AB: Refrahsez? No, I don't have any refrahsez. I have a cooking show.
FM #3: Ahh. Do you know, zee chairman?
FRENCHMEN #1 & #2: [together] Allez cuisine!
AB: Yeah, I, I ... Who do you think taught him all those moves, huh?
FM #3: Zen you may have un, no, deux packages of zees fine lentils. But no substitutions. We'll be watching. Le goons! Allez!
FM #1 & 2:[ rough up AB a bit as they "allez"]
AB: Hey, watch it.

In France, more than 500 wines, cheeses and other agricultural
products have their own Appellation d'origine contrôlée.

The Kitchen

    Now unless you really, really like your dentist, the first thing you should do when cooking lentils is you should check for pebbles. Even the most secure processing facility will occasionally let a little lentil look-alike slip through. But this looks good, otherwise.

    Now up next, we need to give our lentils a rinse. They are very often covered in dust, especially if they are organic in nature. Now let's see. I've got a pound of lentils here; that's two and a half cups, and that is going to be good for six to eight servings as a side dish. I think this time we will go with a straightforward, basic cooking procedure.

1 Pound Lentils

    So place the lentils, along with one small onion, halved, one large clove of garlic, halved, a bay leaf, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a quarter pound of salt pork, into a large, six-quart saucepan, and cover with water by two to three inches. Put this over high heat.

1 Small Onion, Halved
1 Large Clove Garlic, Halved
1 Bay Leaf &
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 Pound Salt Pork

    Now if you've been paying attention, you have no doubt noticed that our lentils went directly into the cooking pot without the traditional dry legume pre-soak. Indeed, lentils are happy to go directly from pantry to the hot water for two reasons. One, they have a very thin skin, which makes for fast liquid absorption. But even more important is the lens-like shape which increases the overall surface-to-mass ratio. Meaning that the liquid has a shorter trip to get in to the center of the device. End of lecture.


    Once the lentils reach a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until they are tender (25 to 30 minutes).

Royal Egyptian tombs were stocked with lentils so the
dead would have something to nosh in the afterlife.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Chuck

    And now, we drain. There's not going to be a whole lot of liquid. But there will be a little bit, and we need to get rid of it. You may also want to fish out the large pieces of onion and, of course, the salt pork which is still hiding in here someplace. There we go.

    Now once the lentils cool down, you can just add a little salt and pepper and eat them as is. Or you can let them cool and we'll do some other creative things. As for the leftovers, [holds up his dog's feeding dish] well, you certainly wouldn't want to waste them. We'll give them to the dog. Here you go, girl!*


AB: [puts the dog dish down on the floor, whistles for the dog, the dog barks then becomes ravenous]

    They love their salt pork. That's what it is. Let's contemplate a salad dressing for this, okay? [hops off of counter]

MATILDA: [attacks AB off-camera as he walks away]
AB: Ow, oh.

    Begin with two teaspoons of Dijon mustard. To that we will whisk in one-half cup of red wine vinegar, one-quarter cup of olive oil, and a quarter cup of freshly chopped parsley. More herbs in the form of one teaspoon of freshly chopped thyme, a teaspoon of kosher salt, half a teaspoon of black pepper, and last but by no means least six to eight pieces of cooked bacon, chopped up.

2 tsp. Dijon Mustard
1/2 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh
1 tsp. Chopped Fresh Thyme
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp. Freshly Ground
    Black Pepper
6-8 Pieces Of Cooked Bacon,

    Now if that weren't already good enough, we will now add one full recipe of our lentils and toss to combine. This can either be served warm or at room temperature.

1 Recipe Cooked Lentils

The Lentil Cookbook

    Mmm, mmm mmm mmm. Mmm. Delicious, really delicious. Now I have been doing a good bit of lentil research, and I have found that 98% of all the lentils that are grown in the United States come from a tiny patch of fertile volcanic soil in the Pacific Northwest—an area called the 'Palouse' [pron: puh-LOOSE] I believe is how you say it—originally grown there as a means of feeding a local population of mostly vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists. Now this makes sense when you consider the nutritional power of the lentil: high in fiber, low in fat, a good source of B vitamins, folate, magnesium, potassium. They're easy to digest meaning that they don't produce as much gassy by-product as other legumes. And of course, there's the protein. Of all the edible plants, only soybeans contain more. What's the big deal about protein? Well, hey, you remember my neighbor, Chuck, right? Come here! Chuck just got back from a Trekkie convention.

AB: So, Chuck, how was the big show?
CHUCK: [dressed similar to Mr. Spock from the original "Star Trek", he gives the Vulcan sign] Live long and prosper.
AB: [does the Vulcan sign, too] Right back at 'ya. Got a trivia question for you. What was the name of the episode where there was this crew member, she was kind of cute, too, and she got zapped into a cube, and the guy threw the cube on the ground and stamped on it ...?
C: Season Two, Episode 22, "By Any Other Name", and Julie Cobb played the unfortunate yeoman in question. She was cute.
[produces a green science fiction looking ray gun]
C: Hey, that's cool. I don't recognize that. That must be from "The Next Generation." I'm not into that ...
AB: [fires the gun at Chuck]

C: [disappears, his costume remains along with some containers, labeled as "protein", "fat", etc.]

    Once you remove the water from the human body, about 75% of what remains are proteins, which make up a considerable amount of the structure of the body, including hair, and the chemicals that allow the body to operate. That means that proteins are both hardware and software. Now, protein in the diet is a complex issue, because not only do we need enough of it to be healthy, it's got to be properly composed.


AB: [to Chuck's remains] Sorry, big guy.

    Proteins are like long trains made up of molecules called amino acids. Now there are 20 amino acids. And what a particular protein does depends on which aminos are in it and what their order is along the train. Now our bodies require thousands of different proteins to operate. And so what happens is, when we consume protein in food, our digestive systems break down the amino acids and reassemble them into the protein trains that we need.
    Now the body can also synthesize certain amino acids. But there are nine known as the essential amino acids, including lysine, which must come from the outside world, i.e., food. Now most animal protein sources, eggs and meat, are "complete", meaning that they contain all of those nine essential amino acids. However, some legumes such as soybeans and lentils, come very, very close. But wait, there's more!

[the train consists of]
  1. Tyrosine [Non-Essential]
  2. Valine [Essential]
  3. Methionine [Essential]
  4. Serine [Non-Essential]
  5. Proline [Non-Essential]
  6. Glutamatic Acid [Non-Essential]
  7. Leucine [Essential]
  8. Glycine [Non-Essential]
  9. Threonine [Essential]
  10. Phenylalanine [Essential]
  11. Isoleucine [Essential]
  12. Cysteine [Non-Essential]
  13. Histidine [Essential]
  14. Aspartic Acid [Non-Essential]
  15. Tryptophan [Essential]
  16. Alanine [Non-Essential]

[AB has in hand]

  1. Lysine [Essential]

[not shown]

  1. Arginine [Essential]
  2. Asparagine [Non-Essential]
  3. Glutamine [Non-Essential]


    The problem with animal proteins is that they usually come with some less-than-healthy baggage. For instance, a mere six-ounce piece of porterhouse delivers 38 grams of complete protein along with 44 grams of fat, a third of which are saturated. A cup of cooked lentils, on the other hand, delivers 18 grams of protein and just under one gram of fat. Now the protein here isn't quite as complete as the meat, but I think that is way overshadowed by the low fat and high fiber. Not to mention the fact that lentils only cost about a buck eighty-nine a pound.

The word protein comes from Greek, protos,
meaning first or of the most importance.

    When you consider their flavor, texture, cost, and cooking time, lentils may be just the best plant-born soup base on planet Earth.

    We begin with two tablespoons of olive oil going into a six-quart Dutch oven or just a large pot over medium heat.

2 Tbs. Olive Oil
    On top of that, the mirepoix, that is, two parts of chopped onion, and one part each of celery and carrot, in this case, one cup, and half a cup, respectively. 1 Cup Finely Chopped Onion
1/2 Cup Each Finely
    Chopped Carrot & Celery

    Now since this is a sweat and we want to pull moisture out of the food, we'll go ahead and add two teaspoons of kosher salt. And we're going to let this sweat until the onions are translucent, six to seven minutes. If the vegetables start to brown, you have got to back off the heat.

2 tsp. Kosher Salt

The obelisk standing in St. Peter's Square was shipped
from Egypt packed in 3 million pounds of lentils.

The Kitchen

    And now we add the remaining software: one pound of lentils which have been sorted and rinsed, a cup of peeled, chopped tomatoes—you can use canned in a pinch. And the spices: we're going to go with half a teaspoon each freshly ground coriander and cumin. And if you really want to up the flavor, you'll combine them and toast them in a pan before grinding. And then an optional ingredient but one that I like very much, a half teaspoon of freshly ground grains of paradise. [smells] Mmm, nice. Then we follow that with two quarts of either chicken or vegetable broth. Homemade would be best, but it's not absolutely necessary.

1 Pound Lentils
1 Cup Tomatoes, Peeled &
1/2 tsp. Each Ground
    Coriander & Ground
1/2 tsp. Ground Grains of
2 Quarts Chicken Or
     Vegetable Broth

    [the phone rings] Just a second! Excuse me.

AB: Hello. Oh, hi! Well, yes, chef. Oh, I know. It's not very common in American kitchens, but ... No sir. It's not rocket science. But who'd ever heard of cayenne pepper before you, heh heh? Yes, chef. I will, chef. "Bam" to you too, sir. [hangs up]

    Um, I've been asked to take a moment to discuss grains of paradise, a spice that, I admit, is not very common in American kitchens. But it will be. It will be.

View-Master Grains of Paradise

    Melegueta pepper commonly known as "grains of paradise", hails from tropical West Africa and is cultivated primarily in Ghana. The small red-brown seeds which come from the wrinkled pod of a reedy cousin of ginger were especially popular as a spice from the time of Elizabeth I to George III. Interestingly enough, the name comes from an Old Portuguese word, meaning "jellyfish".

The Kitchen

    Ever since discovering several sources on the Internet for grains of paradise, I have found myself grinding it onto and into many dishes instead of black pepper. I even have a grinder set aside just for it.
    Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the lentils are just tender. It's going to take 35 to 40 minutes which isn't bad for a dried legume.

In the 16th and 17th century, the word lentil also referred to freckles.

    Time for the doneness test. [removes the lid] Hot. Well, they certainly look done. But do they taste done? [tastes] Mmm. Perfect consistency. They don't fall apart in your mouth. Got to kind of chew them a little bit. Now at this point, we have a textural decision to make. We could certainly leave the soup as is. And if I was going to freeze this for long-term storage, I would leave it as is. But I like a little bit of a thicker liquid. So I'm going to hit it with a stick [blender] just for 25 to 30 seconds.
    [sitting at the table with a bowl of the soup]. I've got to tell you, we have done our fair share of soups on this program through the years. This is my absolute favorite, especially with a little yogurt and some fresh herbage on there.
    Now, I know you, and I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Soups are great. Salads are fine. But the true earmark of a pantry pal, a true pantry pal, is versatility." You want versatility? I'll give you versatility. Come on, follow me!
    Lentils are very good at playing, well, "not lentils". For instance, they've long been used as meat substitutes. You might even say that they are the penitent man's protein since anybody who couldn't afford fish used to eat lentils during Lent. And no, the names are not related ... but it would really be cool if they were. Anyway, what if I told you that lentils also work and play well in the world of baked goods? Interested? I thought so.

    First, we prepare the lentils. I've got four ounces—about two-thirds of a cup—of red lentils here, rinsed as always. Now we're going to add two cups of water to that in a small pot. And we'll put that over medium heat, bring to a simmer for 30 to 40 minutes until the lentils are just barely tender. And once they're cooked, we will remove from the heat and purée [in a food processor].

4 Ounces Red Lentils
2 Cups of Water

    There, nice and smooth. Let that cool down while you assemble the rest of your software.
    Oh by the way, if you're not going to cook right away, you can refrigerate this for four to five days.
    Or, of course, you could freeze it for two to three months, tops.

    And now, it is time to familiarize ourselves with the lentil baked-good-dry-ingredient team. It begins with one teaspoon of baking powder, one teaspoon of salt, kosher, one and a half teaspoons of cinnamon, ground, and one-half teaspoon of allspice, ground. Now, you'll notice there is flour, indeed, nine and a half ounces of pastry flour; that is about two cups. Now pastry flour is important here because it has a slightly lower protein content than all-purpose flour. Less protein, more tender baked good. What is it? I'm not telling you yet. Creaming!

1 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 1/2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Ground Allspice
9 1/2 Ounces White Wheat
    Pastry Flour

Hippocrates prescribed a dish of lentils and
sliced dog as a treatment for liver ailments.

The Kitchen

    Assembling begins thusly. We have six ounces of butter at room temperature. That's a stick and a half (unsalted, please) goes into the mixer. We'll cream that with eight ounces of sugar—that's a cup—plain old granulated stuff. We go with medium speed.

6 Ounces Unsalted Butter,
    Room Temperature
8 Ounces Sugar

    Now this is a very, very, very important step. It is called creaming and it's not very well-understood. What's happening here that's really important is that the sugar granules are literally ripping little holes into the butter, and that is creating little micro-bubbles. That will determine the final texture of our baked good. And I'm not going to tell you what that is yet. So let this work for a few minutes until it looks like, like this. [it is lighter in color and has whipped consistency] That is the perfect consistency. When you rub it between your fingers, you shouldn't even really feel any sugar any more.

    Now, we continue with one egg. Now, vanilla extract, two teaspoons. I like to use the good stuff; but in baked goods, imitation works, too. And now, the lentils. And this is one whole recipe that we just did. It's a cup and a half.

1 Whole Egg
2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups Lentil Puree

    When the lentils are thoroughly integrated, we'll add the dry goods. And I like to use just a paper plate for this—a little easier to dose. We'll go with three doses. You might have to turn down the speed just a little bit so everything doesn't fly all over the kitchen. Two. Three. Now depending on your mixer, you may need to stop and scrape down the edges. This looks pretty good. Now, the rest of the software.

    Last step, integrate the chunkies. We have one cup of standard rolled oats, one cup of dried cranberries, and one cup of dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut. In that goes.

1 Cup Rolled Oats
1 Cup Dried Cranberries
1 Cup Dried, Shredded,
    Unsweetened Coconut

    Now once you've got this stirred in, you could refrigerate this, covered, for a couple of days, or heat your hot box to 375 degrees, being certain to have three racks, evenly distributed, throughout the box.

375 Degrees

    Then, get yourself three sheet pans or cookie sheets. Line them with parchment paper and then dose out your dough into one and a quarter-inch balls, either measuring with a complicated device like this [Vernier caliper], or simply dosing them out with a two-teaspoon disher like this. Then bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until the internal temperature of the cookies hits 195 degrees.

AB: [with the three FM, eating the results] Now admit it, you guys never thought lentil cookies.
FM #1: If it eez food, we have zhought of it!
AB: Yeah, whatever. Hey Chuck, how are you feeling down there, buddy?
C: Okay, Captain. These cookies are doing me a lot of good. [to the FM] What planet are you guys from?
FM #1: We are from France!
FM #2 & #3: [make French-sounding noises]
AB: You know, there may not be any such thing as dilithium crystals ...
C: Agh! Liar!
AB: ... but given their nutritional power, you could think of lentils as ...
FM #1: Your name eez Chuck? As in, Norris?
FM #2 & #3: [strike a martial arts posture]
C: [to himself] Chuck to Scotty. Chuck to Spock. Chuck to Checkov ... **

    Why am I having this conversation? Look folks, if they're not already there, lentils deserve a place in your pantry. Historically significant, nutritionally magnificent, lentils are versatile, easy to prepare, and darn tasty. Who wouldn't love a vegetable that can be turned into a cookie without anyone being any the wiser. That's sneaky eats as well as good eats. See you next time.

*This From Alton's website after the showed aired. The original show was supposedly changed for future airings:
Those of you who watched the Lentil show on the 17th or 18th will want to disregard one particular suggestion I made regarding lentils: don't feed the left-over onions to your dog.
    It turns out onions are not good for dogs in any shape or form. I'm grateful to the folks who brought this to our attention and for setting us straight on this nutritional peculiarity. As for my own dog's ability to digest onions, well ... she's more hog than dog I guess.

Cook smart,

**Mikemenn's Nick Pickers Point: Chuck said in Scene 6, in reference to the space gun AB produced, "That must be from 'The Next Generation. I'm not into that ..." before he was zapped. Yet in the final scene he taps his com-badge a la The Next Generation. The Original Series had communication devices they had to flip open and were kept in the pocket. I'm just saying.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010