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Influx of lentils

New deal will bring Palouse-grown legumes to local stores

If wheat is king of the Palouse, then peas and lentils might be considered by some to be the court jester.

Long beloved by many but reviled by others, these humble rotation crops of the Palouse help farmers keep their land producing year after year. Now, a partnership between farmers and distributors is helping bring an array of Palouse-grown legumes to store shelves in the region.

Pacific Northwest Farmers Co-op and Davidson Commodities are working together to market the crops to customers close to home. For many years, the harvests were shipped off to soup and hummus makers. Now, the crops can be found in bulk bins and bags not far from the fields where they were grown.

The crops are grown using sustainable farming methods, such as no-till seeding, and the harvests are traceable to the Palouse fields where they were grown. A third party, Food Alliance, certifies that the farmers follow sustainable growing practices to help preserve farmland and help protect the environment. The legumes are also verified by the Non-GMO project.

Genesee, Idaho, farmer Jim Hermann has long been a member of the PNW Co-op. He likes recent efforts to bring farmers and their crops into the spotlight.

Hermann works as a “farmer ambassador” for the group and said the biggest misconception he finds when talking to people is that they believe all of the farms on the Palouse are owned by giant corporations who don’t care about farming practices.

“I think people don’t realize that there still is the family farm,” Hermann said. He is a third-generation farmer who works 2,700 acres near Genesee.

“The family farm is alive and getting stronger. There are people coming back to the farm now,” he said, including his son, Ben, who is working with him now.

“I think the beauty of what we have is that after we harvest it goes to the co-op and then it goes to the consumer. That’s about as close to the farm as you can get. I think the quality is far superior.”

While some farmers have felt threatened by books such as “An Omnivore’s Dilemma” and documentaries including, “Food, Inc.,” Hermann looks at it as an opportunity to show people how their farms are run and assure people that they care about safe, high-quality foods, too.

“If you eat you should be interested and know where it comes from,” he said.

Gayle Anderson and her husband, Joe, are also PNW Co-op farmers. Their family farm, also near Genesee, has been in the family for four generations.

For the past three years, the Andersons have taken a break in the middle of the garbanzo harvest each September to host a “Dinner on the Farm.”

Anderson said she invites area residents to come out to their house and see what they do, ask questions about everything from the equipment to pesticide use, and eat a dinner that showcases the crops they grow. They let the guests ride in a combine and generally have the run of the place.

She keeps a blog about life on the farm, her favorite recipes and other farming concerns. In a recent post, she traces grain from their farm with photos and video as it is shipped from the farm to the port, headed for overseas markets.

“We just want to put a face on the family farm,” she said. “People are so far removed from the farming industry. A generation ago, it might have been a father or an uncle … there was some connection. For so long, I think we just assumed that people knew what we did every day.”

There are 750 Palouse-area farmers in the Pacific Northwest Farmers Co-op. Eight of those family farms are Food Alliance-certified, and legumes raised on those farms are now sold in area stores as PNW Specialty Foods.

Pete Tobin, a chef and instructor at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy at the Spokane Community College, loves to showcase the food grown in the area. However, many area people and most of his students didn’t grow up making lentils, garbanzos and peas a regular part of their meals. He works with one of his colleagues to get students thinking about making the legumes part of their plates.

Tobin said he often asks area producers which came first: a reluctance to cook with the legumes which caused farmers to ship them away or did people just become unfamiliar with the crops because they were always shipped overseas.

He said he hasn’t received a clear answer, but he’s happy for the renewed access to the Palouse-grown crops.

Tobin tells cooks unfamiliar with the crops: “There’s no magic, you just have to use your mouth. As soon as they’re tender they’re done.”

For cooks who aren’t comfortable cooking with lentils, here are more detailed instructions from the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council: For each cup of lentils, use at least 2 ½ cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer slowly until the lentils are tender. Drain the excess liquid. Cooking times will vary, but allow 20 to 35 minutes.

When cooking with lentils, Tobin adds a bit of acidity to the cooking water – a few lemon slices, some lemon juice or vinegar – to help them hold their shape.

Lentils do not need to be soaked, and Tobin doesn’t recommend it. He shared a recipe for a Palouse inspired tabbouleh salad (recipe follows).

Others do. Ben Larratt at the Main Market Co-op deli said they soak all of their legumes overnight before cooking. That is also meant to help the lentils retain their shape when cooked. Main Market Co-op features PNW Specialty Foods yellow Shasta lentils in a deli salad topped with orange vinaigrette (recipe follows). The co-op also uses the lentils in Curried Vegetable Lentil Soup, and they serve a variety of garbanzo beans grown by Palouse farmers, called Yorks, in the Mizuna salad.

Main Market also sells a new ice cream from Spokane’s Brain Freeze Creamery that features Palouse lentils from PNW Specialty Foods. That’s right, ice cream. Palouse Crunch flavor includes red lentils, cinnamon almonds and honey.

Chef David Blaine, of Latah Bistro, said he’s surprised at how many people don’t know that garbanzos come dried and must be soaked before using.

To cook garbanzos or chickpeas: Soak them overnight in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover, about three cups of water for each cup of chickpeas. Let stand 8 to 24 hours and drain. After soaking, cover chickpeas with fresh cold water and simmer gently 2 to 3 hours, or until tender. Drain.

One cup of dried garbanzos will yield about 2 1/2 cups of cooked legumes. There is more cooking advice from the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council at

“There is also a fairly narrow understanding of what a chickpea dish looks like or what a lentil dish looks like,” Blaine said.

He encourages cooks to think about the flavors they already love when trying to find ways to incorporate more legumes into their lives. For example, he said, try throwing chickpeas into tried-and-true pasta salad recipe. Instead of pasta, try chickpeas. Or, spike cooked lentils with your favorite Latin American flavors for a warm side dish or cold salad. He shared a simple recipe for Mexican Lentils (recipe follows) that showcases ancho chili powder, cocoa and beer.

PNW Specialty Foods sells two different varieties of garbanzos – York white garbanzos that hold their shape well in salads, soups and side dishes, and the Pedrosillano cafe garbanzos, which are preferred by hummus makers because of the smooth and creamy texture. They can also be used for soups, salads and other dishes.

Blaine likes the Spanish pardina brown lentils grown on the Palouse because they have an earthy umami flavor that he’s often looking for when layering flavors, especially in vegan and vegetarian dishes.

Shasta Lentil Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

From Ben Larratt, Main Market Co-op Deli. “We soak all our legumes for eight hours prior to cooking. This shortens cooking time and prevents legumes from splitting during cooking,” Larratt said.

2 cups soaked yellow or green lentils

1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 cup spinach

1 tablespoon diced red onion

2 tablespoons chopped flat parsley

Salt and black pepper

For the orange vinaigrette:

Zest and juice of one orange

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon minced shallot

1 tablespoon honey or sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

Salt and black pepper

Fill pot with 1 quart of water and cook lentils for about 30 minutes or until they are done yet still firm. Run cold water over them and refrigerate for 1 hour. Toast hazelnuts for 10 minutes until golden. Combine lentils, cheese, spinach, onion, and parsley. Add half the hazelnuts to the salad and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Zest and juice the orange into mixing bowl. Add vinegar, Dijon, shallot and honey or sugar, whisking until mustard dissolves. Whisk oil (or if using a food processor, drizzle slowly) until the dressing emulsifies. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Dressing will keep separately in fridge for about two weeks.

Add dressing to the lentil salad.

Yield : About 8 servings

Palouse Tabbouleh Salad

From Pete Tobin, chef/instructor, Inland Northwest Culinary Academy at Spokane Community College.

1 cup spelt

2 tablespoons vinegar

1/2 cup lentils

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/2 tablespoon salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

10 fresh mint leaves, chopped

4 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped

1 large tomato

1/4 cup green onion, chopped

1/2 large cucumber, peeled and diced

Boil the spelt in 2 cups water with a pinch of salt. Cook until softened and drain, rinse with cold water.

In a separate pot, boil 1 1/2 cups water with vinegar. Add lentils and cook until softened. Drain and rinse with cold water.

In a large salad bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients. Add drained lentils and spelt.

Refrigerate for 2 hours and serve.

Yield : 8 ( 1/2 cup) servings

Mexican Lentils

From Chef David Blaine, Latah Bistro. Blaine says whenever he makes this dish, people ask for the recipe. “It’s so simple I am embarrassed to give it to them, but here it is.” There are so few ingredients in this dish that quality will shine through. Blaine said the dish tastes better when cooled and reheated. It can also be served chilled. 

2 cups pardina lentils

6 cups water

Dash of salt

2 dashes Cholula hot sauce

1 cup beer (preferably a lighter beer like Pilsner)

1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon cocoa powder (good quality, such as Barry Callebaut)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

Salt, to taste

Boil unsoaked lentils in salted water for approximately 30 minutes. When evenly cooked, drain and add remaining ingredients and incorporate thoroughly.

This always tastes better when cooled and reheated. Tastes great chilled or hot. 

Yield: 8 servings

Garbanzo Bean and Zucchini Salad

From Gayle Anderson, who writes the blog A Glorious Life of an Idaho Farm Wife, Gayle and her husband, Joe, farm wheat, lentils and garbanzos in Genesee, Idaho. She posts recipes that she makes for their annual “Dinner on the Farm” on her blog.

For the vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:

1 1/2 cups garbanzo beans, cooked

2 medium zucchini, diced into 1/4 inch pieces

1/2 cup corn, thawed if frozen

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

5 romaine lettuce leaves, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch strips

1 ounce Parmesan cheese

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together ingredients in a small bowl.

For the salad, combine ingredients, except Parmesan cheese, into a salad bowl. Just before serving pour the vinaigrette over the salad, toss well, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Yield : 8 servings