By JENNIFER K. BAUER
The lentil is a lovable legume for lots of reasons.
High in fiber, protein, folate, iron, magnesium and potassium and low in calories and cost, the powerhouse pulse is making food headlines. It’s a key ingredient in the new breakfast cereal Cheerios Protein. Next year promises more fanfare when the United Nations marks 2016 as the International Year of the Pulses.
This is all good news for the Palouse, which produces about 20 percent of U.S. lentils. It’s not new news, though, since Pullman has been celebrating the lentil’s awesomeness since 1989 at the National Lentil Festival.
An estimated 30,000 people are expected to attend the 27th annual festival Friday and Saturday, Aug. 21-22 for events like the Tour De Lentil Bike Ride, free chili from the world’s largest lentil chili bowl and a parade featuring the festival mascot, Tase T. Lentil. There’s a lot to do at the festival ranked by Trip Advisor among the Top 10 Wacky Summer Events of 2013. Here’s some highlights for 2015.
The world’s largest bowl of lentil chili
It takes hundreds of pounds of lentils to power the festival. A portion of these is bound for the World’s Largest Bowl of Lentil Chili. Around 350 gallons of chili will be cooked and stirred with a canoe paddle. The recipe includes carrots, onions, Mexican chocolate, cinnamon and cilantro. You can get a free bowl from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday.
If chili is not to your liking, a variety of local and regional food vendors will sell vittles nearby. They are all required to carry at least one lentil dish on their menus. The food court is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
You will eat your lentils.
Before the parade you can fuel up at the Pullman Lions Club Lentil Pancake Breakfast on pancakes full of, you guessed it, lentils. Breakfast is from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Cougar Plaza on the corner of Grand Avenue and Olsen Street. It also includes eggs, ham, juice and coffee, presumably lentil-free. Cost is $8 for ages 12 and older, $4 for children 5 to 11, and free for children younger than 5.
If the only way you know how to prepare lentils is to boil them in a pot of water and add salt, get ye to the Live Cooking Demos on the Gazebo Stage. Demonstrations are sponsored by Whole Foods Market and PNW Co-op Specialty Foods and feature top Northwest chefs preparing gourmet dishes like ginger dal with pistachio-encrusted salmon and arugula-cilantro chutney.
Among them will be Robin Leventhal, who sits on the Seattle Slow Food Advisory Board and appeared on the sixth season of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef,” finishing fifth.
Presentations are designed to help people learn delicious and easy ways to cook lentils. At the Cooking with Kids segment at 2 p.m. everyone in the audience will make their own small batch of Chocolate Lentil Ice Cream with Caramel.
Demos start on the hour from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
21st annual Legendary Lentil Cook-off
Who comes up with all these unusual ways to eat lentils? Turns out the festival offers some incentive to creative cooks.
Each spring, people send recipes from around the country. A panel of food experts evaluates the dishes and selects five finalists who are brought to the festival to prepare their dish for a panel of five celebrity judges (full disclosure, the author of this story is one of this year’s “celebrities”).
The first-place winner receives $2,000, second-place $1,000 and third-place $500. This year’s contenders are coming from California, Texas and Indiana with dishes like Lentil Lettuce Wraps with Caramelized Onions, Garden Burst Lentil Salad and Baked Lentil Risotto. A local is in the running: Marissa Rudley of Moscow with Lentil Skillet Crisp with Jeweled Apples.
All 109 of this year’s recipes are available in a cookbook for sale for $5 at the festival and online. Hungry yet?
If you Go
What: National Lentil Festival
When: Friday and Saturday, Aug. 21-22
Where: Reaney Park and Spring Street, Pullman
Of Note: Find the complete schedule at lentilfest.com