Fully one of every three lentils in this country is grown at the eastern fringe of our humble state, in a region known as the Palouse. This rich and hilly patch of loess is a four to five hour drive from our doorstep, depending on how fast you take the town of Colfax, Wash., pop. 2700, reputed to be a big-time speed trap. It’s a fair drive from here to there, but one that some growers do on a weekly basis to get their meats and specialty goods to the Seattle-area farmers markets. And yet, you’ll never find lentils at these very same markets.

Why is this? We’re talking about a near-perfect protein, a legume that delivers tons of folic acid and fiber. And lentils are dry goods, which means they ship light and can store for long periods of time; they might just be the ideal national security food. But it happens that all in-state lentils are grown on a contract basis; large corporations provide farmers with their seeds and buy back the product. No doubt the system is efficient, but we pay a certain price; as of Y2K, for example, our state’s lentil growers had exhausted the efficacy of dithiocarbamate and organophosphate insecticides for their crops. See a newer post for additional details.

I bring up lentils at all because for dinner tonight I cooked up a pot of Melissa Clark’s lentil soup from yesterday’s NY Times. This soup was full-bodied, savory, and absolutely delectable with fresh bread, which I baked according to Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois’ 5-minutes-a-day method and ate hot out of the oven smeared with fluffy goat cheese. (Disclaimer: Jeff and Zoe suggest letting the loaf cool before tearing it apart.) It was filling enough for an entire meal, and I’m no bantamweight when it comes to eating.


Update: I made a modified batch of this soup for an herbivorous crowd and it was a hit. Here’s my adaptation of the recipe. The small, split red lentils are a key ingredient, as is the yogurt, which adds a nice hit of acid.

Red Lentil Soup

Vegetable oil / 1 large onion, minced /2 garlic cloves, minced / 1 carrot, diced / 1 tbls tomato paste / 1 tsp ground cumin / generous pinch ground chili powder or cayenne / 6 cups stock or water / 1 cup red lentils / salt & pepper / chilled plain yogurt / chopped cilantro and mint

Heat 1 tbls oil in a soup pot over medium-high. Add onions, garlic, and carrots and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, cumin, and chili powder or cayenne and stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add broth, lentils and ΒΌ tsp salt. Cook 45 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Puree half of soup and recombine. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Garnish with a scoop of yogurt and sprinkled herbs. Feeds 4. Stores well. Adapted from Melissa Clark.

Note: alternately use 1 tsp lemon juice, stirred into soup, instead of yogurt.