'I love lentils but . . . I don't know what to do with them.'
Sharna, one of the women who set up the business Lentilicious, was at the Brisbane Food & Wine Expo last week and told me that is the lament she hears the most often. She said their stall was often 3 people deep, who again and again observed that a lentil dish in a packet is such a clever idea because it solves the problem of - what do you with them?
Lentils are something of a singular enthusiasm. I asked Sharna how she became a lentil entrepreneur. The story is that she and her friend Anthea worked together as carers of people with intellectual and physical handicaps until the company they worked for went out of business. They both loved cooking, loved dal, and the idea to start a lentil empire expanded from their common interest. They'd throw in different ingredients and refine their creations until they finally employed a chef to round off the recipes and make them commercially viable - without losing the heart of the enterprise.
Then Anthea and Sharna would go to markets with their lentil combinations for sale in low key paper bags with small windows. They'd take several cooked batches and serve them up in sugar cane cups with wooden teaspoons to let people sample their wares. And slowly, and with very little investment, the business began to grow.
Now, 3 years later, their product is sold in plastic pouches that allows for distribution and display, plus the printing of a statutory nutrition panel. They distribute all over the land and are developing new flavour combinations and recipe ideas. They cook in a converted room in Anthea's house. They proudly use only Australian red lentils and their values are as visible as that nutrition panel on every packet.
Lentils are good for digestion
Sharna was not aware of the mighty Tim or the slow-carb diet that has revolutionised my world (if not my waistline just yet). I didn't get the feeling she regularly eats lentils for breakfast herself. But she told me the Lime Time mix is a popular breakfast with a few coeliacs she knows. She has also been told that a good vegan breakfast is the Mediterranean and the Chilli mix combined and served on toast. Sounds like breakfast to me.
In India, according to Sharna, mung dal is favoured by the elderly and people who are convalescing because it is soft to digest. I can appreciate that. I find red lentils (similar to mung dal) so much more easier to stomach in the morning that firm little Puy pellets.
Lentils are versatile
The beautiful Lentilicious website features several recipes and ideas for using the packets as a base for a meal as much as a complete meal. Sharna said that they make a great base for vegetable soup with organic stock and extra vegetables. She also described a kind of lentil lasagne that is right up my alley because it features sweet potato and spinach and . . . pastry. Too divine. I plan to try that one and I'll post the recipe - especially now that I know that Lentilicious has made it to a local providore that we visit frequently and I can stock up.
I really enjoyed talking with Sharna and I came away from the conversation excited about all the wonderful things to make with lentils and keen to try a few new recipes. I'll keep you posted! In the meantime, look out for their attractive packets (buy them online) and let me know your favourite Lentilicious concoctions!