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Canada's chef Michael Smith seeks lentil recipes around world in new web series

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TORONTO - Not only does Canada produce more lentils than any other country in the world, but they're regarded as a "gold standard" by many who import them, says chef Michael Smith.

The cookbook author and nutrition activist made the discovery while travelling to five far-flung countries to film the webisodes "Lentil Hunter with Chef Michael Smith."

"Canadians just don't know that we produce lentils. So they don't come attached with that hometown hero label, if you will, so we're trying to share and spread the word that we produce the world's lentils here in Canada and we thought one of the ways to do that might be to actually follow those lentils all over the world, see where they go and perhaps see how other cultures integrate lentils into their culinary traditions," he said.

"If we can perhaps show Canadians that lentils are not just some boring commodity, that they're vibrant part of cuisines all over the world in unexpected places, then it might inspire us to integrate them more into our cooking."

Lentils are high in fibre and complex carbohydrates, while low in fat and calories. They're also budget-friendly.

Canada is the world's leading exporter of lentils, exporting a total value of $1.1 billion in 2013. Saskatchewan accounts for 96 per cent of total Canadian production. Some of the largest importing countries of Canadian lentils include India, Turkey, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Algeria.

Last year, Canada's production eclipsed that of India, said Smith, who has worked with Canadian Lentils on several projects over the last few years. "India is the world's largest market and for a long time the world's largest producer, but they eat way more than they grow and that made Canada the world's largest exporter now."

Smith said it was a "real revelation" to him to find how highly regarded Canadian lentils are during his travels. "They're seen as the gold standard and in particular in India. They're just sort of held up and revered and thought of as better than the lentils that they grow in India," the P.E.I.-based Smith said during a recent visit to Toronto.

In addition to India, Smith's travels last winter took him to Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and France.

"In all five of those places lentils are iconic. France, in particular, my initial introduction to lentils was through du Puy lentils and the tradition of lentils in French cooking."

In the webisode set in Le Puy-en-Velay, Smith is a guest of chef Francois Gagnier, who treated the Canadian to a seven-course tasting menu at his Michelin-starred restaurant with the crowning glory a light-as-air souffle anchored with earthy lentils and star anise. Smith, in turn, became such a hit during his visit that he was inducted into the Brotherhood of Le Puy Lentils, the iconic delicate green variety indigenous to the Auvergne region.

"That was a neat moment," he said. "As a Canadian myself this has been an eye opener for me learning about lentils and how we produce them, how regarded they are around the world and all of it.

"But then we get to France and to see those fellows so passionate about lentils that they've created this brotherhood and it's been in existence for hundreds of years, the tradition of it all and, you know, just the feeling they have and inducting me into it, it was a big deal and it sort of makes you sit up straight and take it very seriously," said Smith, host of such Food Network Canada shows as "Chef Abroad," "Chef at Home" and "Chef at Large." Most recently he has appeared as a judge on "Chopped Canada."

In Italy, the featured dish is rustic Umbrian lentils and sausage. "It's a culture where we wouldn't initially think of lentils as being a part of it, but they grow and produce lentils there and have a long tradition," said Smith, who will follow up on last year's "Back to Basics" cookbook with one this fall on family meals.

"Of all the recipes that I stumbled on to the lentil fritters in Dubai were my favourite. Blew me away how simple they were and how good they are. My kids love 'em."

In Morocco, meals commence with lentils, often brown bread with a lentil stew to dip it into.

The recipes Smith gleaned from each country are linked to the webisodes or can be found on the Canadian Lentils website.

During May, viewers who spot the mini-chef in each "Lentil Hunter with Chef Michael Smith" webisode can enter to win a trip for two to Prince Edward Island to meet Smith and attend the annual Village Feast event, slated to run July 4-7.

Follow (at)lois_abraham on Twitter.


For more information about Canadian Lentils and ways to cook with lentils, visit The webisode series is at

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