HARVEST of THE MONTH: Lentils
Ennis students transform one of Montana’s highest produced crops
ENNIS—Lentils aren’t a particularly glamorous legume, but pizza is something everyone likes. So, students at Ennis Schools used January’s Harvest of the Month to learn more about lentils, transforming them into pizzas that might turn even the most determined skeptic into a lentil eater.
Food and culinary science teacher Jamie Diehl led elementary students in the newest segment of Montana’s Harvest of the Month program, the brainchild of members of Montana State University’s Food and Health lab designed to help Montana’s students learn about the crops that are grown all around them, and how to use them.
Lentils are an appropriate choice, since Montana produces more lentils than any other state in America. The Treasure State is responsible for nearly 40 percent of all of the country’s lentils, and some farmers are implementing groundbreaking science that utilizes the lentil’s classification as a pulse crop to make environmental and agricultural practices healthier by utilizing fewer pesticides and fertilizers in their fields.
The growing of lentils began in the northwestern part of the state but spread to over 10,000 acres as their potential as an alternative crop was realized. Many farmers began using them as rotational crops between seasons of their primary crops to replenish nutrients in the soil.
A member of the same family as peanuts, chickpeas, beans and peas, lentils use a unique biological system to inject nitrogen into the soil in which they grow.
Most plants suck nitrogen out of their soil, which is why nitrogen is a key ingredient in many fertilizers. But the nitrogen-producing qualities of pulse crops means they can take the place of fertilizers if used as rotational crops between growing seasons of things like wheat or corn.
While replenishing the soil, the rotational growing practice also helps to keep problem weeds from getting a strong hold on fields, and helps to disrupt cycles of crop diseases and mold.
Like many pulse crops, lentils are especially winter-friendly since they can be dried and preserved for months at a time, reconstituted in soups, stews, risotto, chili and salads.
They’re a good option for people seeking a non-meat source of protein, a nutrient that makes up over 25 percent of a lentil’s mass. They pack iron—something many vegetarians find notoriously hard to get enough of—B vitamins, magnesium and potassium, making them one of the most diversely nutritious, providing benefits to heart health and immune systems and reducing cancer risk.
On Thursday, January 24, Diehl led students in a lunchtime preparation of Pulse Pita Pizzas. Cooked red lentils were combined with olive oil, tomato paste and spices to make a flavorful pizza sauce that would food most pizza lovers into thinking it was much unhealthier than it really was.
Dolloped on top of pita bread with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, they made for a healthy snack that did double duty, teaching students in a hands-on way about where their food comes from and providing a real-life example of the importance of Montana’s agricultural businesses.
Recipe on Page B 9