There is a festival for absolutely everything. And it is not just an American thing. If it exists in the world, there is a group of people somewhere celebrating it. Party everyday eh. In my own town of Poulsbo we celebrate Norwegian heritage by consuming lutefisk and spit roasted meat at our annual Viking Fest held in May, in neighboring Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula the Lavendar festival is held every July to make known the worlds largest producer of lavendar outside of Provence, here in Spokane the lilac festival is held every May, in Walla Walla the onion festival is held late july, and the Wenatchee apple harvest festival in late September celebrates the regions apple bounty before they are shipped off to grocery stores around the world (including Paris). These are a few of the hundred in my state alone, multiply that by fifty and then add in 3 million from around the world. It is a notion as common as two eyes and a nose, we like to celebrate.
Driving my housemate S to the Spokane International Airport for her evening flight to Washington DC from where she will be driving all the way back to Spokane in a little car (yes, cross-country, but more on that later) we hear on the radio the voice of the weather woman announce, "and what beautiful weekend weather we'll have for you to get out there and enjoy the end of the lentil festival with.." What did she say? Lentil festival? Ahk! When, where? Did we miss it? S just stares ahead, clearly relieved by her immense fortune at finding herself en route toward the opposite side of the country from me. Home from the airport, I phone E, E there is a lentil festival! We must find out about it. E: I love lentils! Alas, as we discover too late, the lentil festival is but a few hours shy of finishing, and that being in Pullman, a no-nothing town about an hour and a half's drive south of Spokane. Perhaps next year. Only kiding--Spokane next August? Not on your life.
The Lentil Festival in Pullman is actually a national festival, as it commemorates the largest lentil producing region in the nation. Over one third of the lentils grown in the entire country come from the Eastern Washington region known as the Palouse. Eastern Washington, for as unromantic hic farmer-town as it sounds, is an agricultural paradise of rolling fields and peaking hills studded with farm land as far as the eyes can see. Potatos, wheat, onions, apples, barley, alfalfa, grapes, and of course lentils. Lentils are consumed all over the globe; in Europe, Asia, throughout the Americas, the Middle East, Africa--the lentil is as communal as wheat. They have been discovered filling grain sacks in Egyptian tombs since before 2000 BC, and like everything else to the Egyptians (did you catch Bourdain eating the pigeon on Monday?) lentils are famed as an aphrodesiac. Food in general is eh. Lentils are more of a bean than anything, though flat like a fan or a lens. Rich in protein, soluble fiber, and iron, the lentil is a little health pill.
Following is the winning recipe in the festival, by Lindhda Sagen--an actual Pullman resident. Go figure. Poppers, quite the unappetizing name I will say; inspires images of something sticky that comes in a bucket from say a large fried chicken chain. But we must remember, we are in Eastern Washington--a land all its own.
Fabulous Lentil Mushroom Poppers: By Lindha Sagen
30 medium-size white mushrooms (remove stems and set aside. Scrape out all the gills using spoon)
1 tube Jimmy Dean original flavor sausage
¼ c. finely chopped mushrooms stems
1 c. cooked lentils
¼ c. finely chopped onion
¼ c. celery
1 tsp. breadcrumbs
4 oz. cream cheese (1/2 of package)
½ c. shredded Italian cheese (divided)
¼ c. Parmesan shredded cheese
1 c. Marinara sauce (optional)
Method: Place clean and hollowed mushrooms on baking sheet. Preheat oven 375 degrees. In a separate medium size pan, combine sausage, mushroom stems, lentils, onion, and celery. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally to break-up sausage. Sprinkle remaining Italian cheese and Parmesan cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and serve alone or with heated Marinara sauce for dipping.
Place clean and hollowed mushrooms on baking sheet. Preheat oven 375 degrees. In a separate medium size pan, combine sausage, mushroom stems, lentils, onion, and celery. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally to break-up sausage.
Sprinkle remaining Italian cheese and Parmesan cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and serve alone or with heated Marinara sauce for dipping.
The lentil, lentille, lentilha--where would humanity be without the lovely lentil. Stuck with chicken noodle soup that's where. Lentil soup is an ambrosia, one which I would unhesitatingly be proud to list in Bourdains "what would your death row meal be?" game. They celebrate the lentil in Pullman every year, but we can award it equal justice without throwing it a party. For none of you will ever (hopefully) travel physically to Pullman for the festival, so make soup, share soup, we're all connected by soup! Vive la lentille!