I don’t know enough about the agricultural history of the United States to explain why particular grains and legumes are grown or not grown here. But somewhere along the line, the U.S. became heavily dependent upon corn, soybeans, and wheat. The result? Other grains/legumes tend to be underutilized in this country, which is a shame, given their versatility and nutritional value.
But thanks to both a broadening of culinary horizons and the dedication of small businesses like Timeless Natural Food, the situation is beginning to change.
Timeless Natural Food offers Montana-grown, popular legumes/grains, as well as lesser-known varieties. Their lentils, for instance, come in a veritable rainbow of colors and types, from the beautiful Petite Crimson to Harvest Gold to Black Beluga. Check out their Black Kabuhli Chickpeas, or, my favorite, Purple Prairie Barley (and when they say it’s purple, they’re not kidding!). This barley cooks up to plump, al dente grains of a beautiful hue. Yellow Split Peas and Golden Flax complete the roster.
Everything they sell here is certified organic, produced by family farmers who care about their land and crops. The company also provides meaningful employment for 15 to 20 developmentally disabled adults (who label and package the products) and participates in the nationally-acclaimed annual “Ag Month” program at Meadowlark School, promoting sustainable and organic agriculture to 4th graders and their parents. Co-founder, CEO & General Manager David Oien is a third-generation Montana farmer who, after obtaining a college degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies, returned to the family farm in 1976, converting it to organic. An avid supporter of renewable energy, Oien also built a passive solar house and rehabbed a 30s-era wind power generator. (The website features a whole section about Timeless’ sustainability strategy.)
I find that many Americans simply don’t know how to prepare a legume or grain that’s a bit different. But, just as you’d use one type of apple in making a pie where another wouldn’t have the right texture, there are significant variations between, for instance, types of lentils (the Harvest Gold lentils cook in 5 to 10 minutes, a much shorter time than that required for Green Lentils).
If you’re willing to try something new (and if you are, I applaud you; too many Americans are in a food rut), you’ll find some recipes right on the Timeless Natural Food website (one for African Black Chickpea, Lentil & Squash Stew can be found below), where you can also buy a cookbook with more formulations using their products.
Much of the rest of the world has depended on these legumes and grains as dietary staples for centuries, if not longer (making them indeed “timeless”!). My guess is that these other cultures might just know something that we don’t. Any reliable source of nutrition information will enlighten you regarding the health benefits of eating lentils and their ilk. Better still, these legumes/grains are inexpensive compared to many other foods, and they can be used to create delicious salads, soups, and much more. Visit the website to find out if there is a store near you, otherwise online ordering is available.
African Black Chickpea, Lentil & Squash Stew
Serves 8 (plan ahead, this recipe takes approximately 8 hours)
3/4 cup Black Kabuli Chickpeas
2 1/2 pounds kabocha squash, or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 cups Petite Crimson lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp saffron
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Soak chickpeas in enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches for 6 hours or overnight. (Alternatively, use the quick-soak method: Place beans in a large pot with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour.) Drain when ready to use.
Combine the soaked chickpeas, squash, carrots, onion, lentils, broth, tomato paste, ginger, cumin, salt, saffron and pepper in a 6-quart slow cooker.
Put on the lid and cook on low until the chickpeas are tender and the lentils have begun to break down, 5 to 6 1/2 hours.
Stir in lime juice. Serve sprinkled with peanuts and cilantro.
Top photo: Udaipur Spice Market in Rajasthan, India by Dey, Creative Commons