Three words describe Lanzarote lentils: inexpensive, local, delicious.

I appreciate that some people equate eating lentils as a form of punishment, like your mother forcing you to eat boiled cabbage. Read on, something might surprise you about this teeny gem of delicious nutrition.

Before the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands, the Guanche population used to grow and eat lentils. They were filling, cheap, and easy to grow and store. The local Lanzarote lentil is the Verdina lentil, sometimes referred to as eston lentil or ston lentil. It is a tiny, gastro wonder, less than 5 millimetres in diameter. It varies in shade from light green to dark brown. It is a quick-cooking lentil and it’s not necessary to soak in water overnight. When cooked, it is a tasty, gluten free carbohydrate. It does not shed its skin like a lot of legumes. I use them cold in salads, hot in all kinds of main courses and tapas dishes, I also sprout them in water and use as a garnish. The cooked lentil can also be roasted and sprinkled with salt as a tasty snack. What’s more it is bursting with healthy fibre, B-vitamins, iron and protein.

If you are still thinking yuk, consider the French. They take lentils to gastro levels. Lentilles du Puy, a tiny grey-green lentil from Le Puy, in the Haute-Loire have their own fiesta every August. Guy Savoy, in Paris serves a cream of lentil soup with truffles at his Michelin-starred restaurant. Italians also take their lentils to gastro levels, and traditionally eat a lentil dish on New Year’s Eve, as they are considered to bring good luck, fortune, and prosperity. It is also a vegan and vegetarian favourite due to its high protein content. I have made lentil pate, lentil burgers, spaghetti with lentils and kale pesto, and lentils with coconut milk and ginger. It is a staple food for many cultures, Indian curries (dahl) are based on lentils, Spain is particularly proud of their lentil dishes and the Greeks even use it in bread making.

Lens culinaris is the Latin name for lentils. The local variety is a many-branched, bushy plant that can grow to 30 – 80cm high. It has tiny green leaves and up to 40 little pods, each containing one or two lentils. It grows in areas around Soo and Muniqué, Maguez, Haria and Femes, and many private Huertas and gardens. It grows best where annual daytime temperatures are within 15 – 29°celcius, and it likes a sandy or clay soil. I am experimenting with it this year in my vegetable garden.

Lentil plants originated in Asia and have many varieties. This easily transportable crop quickly spread throughout the subtropical regions of the world. The earliest records date to 11,000 BC in Ancient Greek writings. It would be another 5,000 years before it was cultivated regularly. Odd, given its nutritious value and easy storage. The Lanzarote variety has a very mild flavour. To cook, rinse them thoroughly first. Then bring to the boil in fresh cold water, and they cook in under 15 minutes. They don’t lose their skin like other lentils.  The dried seed can also be ground into a powder and used with cereal flours in bread making, this enhances the protein factor in the bread.

Most supermarkets on the island have a selection of dried lentils and other pulses like chickpeas to buy by dried weight. I am fond of Roper in Playa Honda and Chacon in Arrecife and the open-air markets, where local growers have a cornucopia of dried lentils. Alternatively, they can be bought ready cooked in 500g jars or in packets, for around a euro in most supermarkets. Rinse thoroughly before use.

Other delicious lentils grown on Lanzarote, are the Rabbit lentil, a medium size lentil. It is the main ingredient in local dishes like Puchero Canario and Potaje de Lentejas.  I have eaten lentil croquettes, and lentil pasta in local restaurants. I once had a delicious tapa of dates wrapped in bacon on a small bed of Lanzarote lentils in Restaurante El Chupadero in the wine region.

The caviar of lentils on the island are the tiny black lentils. They are shiny, bead-like seeds and often referred to as beluga lentils. Black lentils only need to be cooked for about 20-30 minutes, and they’ve got a thick skin that helps them hold their shape. Once cooked they keep in the fridge for several days, making black lentils a meal prep hero for vegetarians and omnivores alike.  Cooked black lentils can be puréed, roasted, and repurposed into a wide array of snacks. Blend them into a creamy, herb dip or marinate them in vinegar, mustard and sour cream and eat them with crunchy vegetables, tacos, arepas, tortillas or garlic bread.

Sprouting lentil seeds are not something I have ever seen on a menu on the island. Yet these power houses of nutrition are my favourite ways to eat them. Simply soak them in water for 8 hours in a glass jar. Every morning for 3 days rinse and drain and leave to them to sprout. On the third day you have a jar full of healthy sprouting seeds, tasty as a garnish or in salads. If you want to grow them in your garden, gently pull the sprouts apart and plant individually in pots, indoors, until 10 cm high, then plant them outside.

Potaje de Lentejas is one of the traditional Canarian dishes of Lanzarote. Puchero and Potaje are stews made from lentils, chickpeas, vegetables and often meat.

A version of Potaje is made in nearly every culture in the world. It is often separated when cooked, by drinking the liquid first as a soup course, and eating the meat and vegetables separately. Scouse, is a hearty meat and vegetable stew from Liverpool; Irish stew is similar; as is Welsh cawl and Norwegian lapskaus, or rojões from Portugal. Ropa vieja you will see on Lanzarote menus, it is the national dish of Cuba, a stew often made with shredded beef, tomato, lentils, onions, and peppers. Čobanac is a traditional meat stew originating from eastern Croatia and Stifado is a hearty Greek one-pot stew.

Traditional Canary Island Recipe

Potaje de Lentejas

Serves: up to 6 people
Cooking time: approx. 1 hr 30 minutes

Ingredients

1/2 kg Lanzarote lentils
3 litres of water
3 stock cubes
1 kg of small pork chops or chopped stewing steak or goat meat
4 corn on the cob (chopped into chunks)
1/2 kg potatoes
1/2 kg sweet potatoes
1/2 kg pumpkin
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 onion (peeled and chopped finely)
4 cloves of garlic (peeled and sliced finely)
2 beef tomatoes (skinned and chopped)
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 small bunch fresh coriander, chopped
1 pinch of powdered saffron
Salt & pepper

Method

1. Rinse the lentils thoroughly in cold water, bring to boil with fresh water. Once boiling, strain, return to the pot and pour in 3 litres of fresh cold water and 3 stock cubes.
2. Add the meat, corn on the cob and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.
3. Score the tomatoes with a sharp knife in a cross-shape top and bottom. Soak the tomatoes in boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove, cool and peel all the skin off and chop.
4. Heat the oil in a pan and lightly fry the onion and garlic, then add the chopped tomatoes and allow to cook for 1 minute.
5. Peel and chop the potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin into manageable chunks for eating.
6. Add the onion, garlic and tomato mix and the potatoes and pumpkin to the pot with the lentils.
7. Add the chopped parsley and coriander, saffron and salt & pepper to taste.
8. Cook for another 20 minutes on a low heat.
9. Remove from heat and allow to settle for a few minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, before serving.

Contemporary Recipe

Lanzarote Lentil Burgers. Makes 6 to 8 burgers depending on size of the burger

Ingredients

1 cup Lanzarote uncooked lentils or 2 jars of 500g cooked lentils
½ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt or plain yoghurt
¼tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, finely crushed
Salt and pepper
6oz. mushrooms, wipe cleaned, stems trimmed
¼ tsp paprika
4 Tbsp. (or more) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
¼ cup of gluten-free flour (I used rice flour), or all-purpose flour
Whole wheat buns, (gluten free if you choose), sprouting seeds and/or lettuce, and sliced pickles (for serving)

Method

1. Rinse the uncooked lentils in cold water.
2. If using cooked lentils, rinse carefully from the jar and leave to drain. Skip steps 3-4.
3. Fill a large saucepan to cover lentils by 2″. Bring to a boil, rinse away the water. Add cold water again, bring to boil with the salt.
4. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 10-15 minutes from the time the water reaches a boil. Drain very well in a fine-mesh sieve, then let cool, 10 minutes (spread them on a baking sheet, which will help them cool faster).
5. Meanwhile combine yogurt, lemon zest, lemon juice, and half of minced garlic in a small bowl. Season with salt; set aside.
6. Finely chop mushrooms and transfer to a fry pan and cook with a little salt. Add paprika, 2 tbsp. oil, and remaining crushed garlic clove and stir in at last minute.
7. Add the mushrooms to the lentils (you should have apx 2 cups of cooked lentils). Stir and mash them with the back of a spoon or a potato masher until lentils are partly mashed but with lots of whole lentils still remaining. Vigorously stir in the flour until mixture holds together when squeezed; if it doesn’t, continue to mash until it does and add 1–2 Tbsp of more flour if needed. Form into 6 patties about ¾” thick.
8. Working in 2 batches, heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large non-stick frying pan (non-stick is essential, since these will stick to a regular frying pan ). Cook burgers until deeply browned and crisp on bottom side, about 3 minutes. Carefully turn and repeat on second side, adding more oil as needed, to maintain a light coating around burgers whilst they are cooking.
9. Spread reserved yogurt mixture on buns. Top with the lentil burgers, sliced tomatoe or lentil sprouts, and pickles or whatever topping you prefer.
10. Enjoy!

Chef notes: Burgers can be made 4 days ahead. Tightly wrap in plastic and chill in fridge; or freeze for 3 up to months. I occasionally skip the mushrooms and add grated cheese to make a deliciously moist burger. This mixture can also be packed into a paper lined loaf tin and placed in the oven to make a wonderful lentil pate.

Suggestions of places to eat contemporary lentil dishes in Lanzarote:

Teguise: Acatife, Plaza de San Miguel, Villa de Teguise, 35530
Arrecife: The V Factor, C/ La Porra, 52, 35500 Arrecife. Vegetarian and Vegan.
Famara: El Sibarita, Avda del Marinero 128, Caleta de Famara, (Vegan and Vegetarian as well as meat dishes, they are famous for their lentil and quinoa burgers)
Costa Teguise: Dolman Bar, Calle de las Tabaibas 1, Costa Teguise. (Vegan- Vegetarian, Pizza, Italian, British, European, Spanish, and non-vegetarian)
Puerto del Carmen: Bistro Arbol, is a plant based restaurant. Calle Timanfaya, 2, 35510 Puerto del Carmen

You might also like to trymaking my mushroom burgers from my food blog