When Edmonton food blogger Valerie Lugonja asked me to participate in her Canadian Food Experience project, I have to admit my first thought was “Oh no, you mean I have to post something at a specific time each month? Like on a deadline?” This fear of possible legitimacy and/or respectability sent me into a month long tailspin of stress eating and beer drinking on my deck in the warm summer sun.
Full Disclosure: Closer diagnosis of this phenomenon has revealed its cyclical nature, re-appearing every spring, and seceding each fall like clockwork.
Following a specific timeline and theme each month and creating a post in-line with that theme will be a challenge for me, but I’m looking forward to creating some interesting content and reading a lot from the other participants. July’s theme is “A Regional Canadian Food”, so I immediately starting wondering how loosely I could interpret “regional”.
Look at me, trying to cheat already!
I have to admit that given my location in Edmonton, I had real difficulty identifying a truly “Edmonton and area” ingredient, but unless I wanted to write a post on snow, mosquitos, or last place hockey teams, I’d have to figure it out.
I decided to create something I had never heard done before with an ingredient that I was surprised to learn that Western Canada is a powerhouse in producing.
Did you know that the province of Saskatchewan produces an astonishing 60% of the entire world’s lentils, and that the humble lentil is naturally low in fat, but high in fibre and protein? Of course you do… you just read it. So what better regional Western Canadian ingredient to focus on for this challenge than Prairie Rice?
To that end I submit for you enjoyment…….
Start off like you would any other risotto: cook your lentils in a tasty broth.
When you’ve reached lentil-risotto perfection, the messy part begins.
Because everything is better stuffed with cheese.
Time to powder your balls.
Into the flour they go, followed by an egg drenching and a coating of panko.
A few minutes in a hot oil bath, and you’ve got yourself some salty, crispy balls!
The great thing about this recipe is that if you already have a kick-ass risotto recipe, just substitute lentils for the rice and you’re next dinner party will be more Canadian than a Mountie riding a moose over a beaver dam.
When my wife Robyn and I taste-tested the arancini, we both loved the crispy, salty coating. Her suggestion was to try some other cheeses (like Sylvan Star gouda, for an even more regional flair), and that the risotto could benefit from a bit of freshness in the form of some chopped basil or parsley added to the mix at the end.
The beauty is that the recipe is totally open to your tastes, and it’s so easy to customize to your own likes.
- 1/2 cup dried lentils- I used red split lentils
- 2 cups hot beef stock
- 1/4 cup of your favourite red wine
- 1/4 onion, finely minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup AP flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 3-4 tbsp grated parmesan
- 2 ounces of a melty cheese (I used cream cheese and goat cheese)
- 2 tbsp butter
- salt and pepper to taste
Melt 1 tbsp of butter in saute pan over medium heat. Add in onions and garlic and fry a couple minutes.
Stir rinsed lentils into the pan and saute a couple minutes to coat with butter.
Add red wine and stir constantly until mostly absorbed.
Ladle in about a 1/4 cup of hot beef stock and continue stirring until absorbed. Continue this process until the stock is all absorbed. When you get near the end of the stock you may want to start tasting for texture. If you like a more firm lentil, you may not use all the stock. If you like your lentils more soft, you might use more stock. I found the 2 cups to be right for me.
Stir in the lemon juice and the second tbsp of butter. Tighten up the mixture with 2 tbsp of grated parmesan.
Let the mixture cool until you’re able to handle it with bare hands.
Prepare your dredging station with a container for each of the flour, egg, and panko. I also added 1-2 tbsp of parmesan to the panko.
Scoop a spoonful of lentils into your hand and push a piece of cheese into the center. I found cheese approximately the size of dice worked well. Form the lentils around the cheese to cover it completely.
Roll the ball in the flour, then the egg, and finally the panko coating. Place them on a plate and refrigerate to let them firm up for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat up your deep fryer to 325-350 degrees.
When ready, drop the balls into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Be careful not to overcrowd the fryer as it will drop the oil temperature too much and you’ll end up with oily balls.
And everyone knows, there’s nothing that’s more unappetizing than oily balls.
Well there you have it folks, a Western Canadian spin on a traditional Italian favourite that you’re sure to enjoy.
Now, if anyone needs me, I’ll be on the deck.