Becoming definite in one’s views is just one of the mixed blessings that come with age. Self-assurance is a lovely thing unless – or until – it tips over into inflexibility and obduracy. And there I was convinced I knew those foods I loved and those I did not, only to be startled by an ingredient whose possibilities suddenly appear endless. This is thanks to the ladies behind Lentilicious and their little operation revolving, of course, around the humble lentil.
Lentils are often referred to as the ‘poor man’s meat’; humble they have long been perceived, with the exception of a French variety called Puys. One of the first vegetables to be cultivated, they are a member of the legume family and a type of pulse. In fact they are the seeds of the legume Lens culinaris; they look a little like gravel, and their flavour is earthy and nutty.
In one of the quiet Mullumbimby back streets near the reserve, Anthea Packshaw and Sharna Glasser run what essentially amounts to their little factory in one of the rooms of Anthea’s house. Although they started the business about two years ago it is only really now that the girls are ready to step things up. Both trained carers for people with mental and physical disabilities, they met at the same facility which, two years ago, sold out to a private company, resulting in both finding themselves without a job.
‘We were both going through personal crises individually as well’, Sharna tells me as we settle around the kitchen table over herbal tea. ‘We’re both vegetarian and were always looking for quick easy meals – and we found that lentils fit the bill. We found there was room to expand from the Indian dhal. ’We felt, Anthea resumes, ‘that there was a niche in the market, that people don’t know what to do with lentils, especially when confronted by the choice of colours and types. They started playing around with flavour combinations, going as far as employing a chef to help them with recipe-development and testing.
‘We wanted you to try Lime Time,’ she explains, and shows me one of the packets through whose cellophane window I glimpse dried kaffir lime leaves and cinnamon quill. As instructed I squeeze lime juice over the rice, dollop a little in the lentils, add a spoonful of creamy yoghurt stirred through chutney and dip in. It is divine! It is a revelation, unexpectedly light, tangy, lush and citrussy and so removed from my expectations and experiences of muddy sludge.
‘We’re passionate about bringing lentils into the mainstream,’ Sharna tells me. ‘It’s a protein meal that gives the meat/fish eaters the opportunity to have an alternative protein meal.’
So far the girls have devised five types; apart from Lime Time there is Coconut Fusion (popular with children), Mediterranean, Turmeric Magic and Red Hot Chilli – but they’re not stopping here. Plans are afoot for breakfast lentils and dessert lentils. Meanwhile they do three markets a week, including Byron Bay, Bangalow, Brunswick, Lennox Head, Mullumbimby, Mulllum Farmers Market and Lismore Farmers Market. They say the response is fantastic: ‘It’s been a hit wherever we go,’ says Sharna, ‘People are so excited with the possibilities.’
The lentil packs contain bay leaves, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, dried chili, shredded coconut and on the back the simplest instructions as to how to cook them. Already I am imagining tossing sauted cubes of swordfish through a pack of Lime Time!
‘We’re bubbling with excitement,’ Sharna tells me. And so they should be too, because I, the newly converted, most definitely am.
Lentilicious will have their website, complete with recipes, up and running soon.