TORONTO - Chefs in two dozen restaurants across Canada are competing this month with signature dishes all incorporating the same homegrown ingredient: lentils.
The restaurants in seven cities have added the creations to their menus for customers to order and vote on during the FunDeLentil competition in June.
Check out the featured dishes here — story continues below:
Culinary activist Anita Stewart put together the list of restaurants — which are also Food Day Canada participants committed to using Canadian ingredients — on behalf of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and Canadian Lentils.
"It's right down my alley. In terms of my mission statement to actively promote the growth and study of our distinctly Canadian food culture, well, this is it," the University of Guelph food laureate said Thursday at George restaurant in Toronto.
"It's a way to support our own farmers and lentils are also really delicious and healthy. They're so darn versatile."
She said chefs are coming up with many unique ways to use lentils, such as turning them into flour, using them for coating or stuffing, and sprouting them to make bread.
Canada is one of the world's largest producers of lentils, planting more than 1.3 million hectares of lentils last year. Types produced in Canada include commonly known green lentils and split red lentils, and lesser-known black or beluga lentils and French Green lentils.
The chefs were invited to use one or a combination of lentils grown in Canada in their dish.
Lorenzo Loseto, executive chef at George, bruleed lentils sprouted at the restaurant for a salad paired with seasonal Dungeness crab and beluga lentils.
Loseto said he often uses lentils in innovative ways, such as a savoury crumble — they're cooked, fried till crunchy, paired with crispy horseradish and used as a garnish. He incorporates red lentils into a dressing for a romaine salad with Parmesan cheese.
"It tastes like a caesar salad, but it doesn't have eggs," he said.
For his offering, Craig Flinn, chef-owner of Chives Canadian Bistro in Halifax, is serving a strudel filled with smoked duck and green lentils with foie gras and a rhubarb jelly made from his mother's garden, Stewart said.
The choices are "as upscale as you want it or it's as comforting as a lentil shepherd's pie," said Stewart, who was appointed in 2011 to the Order of Canada for her promotion of the food industry in Canada.
Restaurants in the FunDeLentil Tour are in Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.
Canadians can vote online at http://www.fundelentil.ca for their favourite dish and be entered for a chance to win a trip to dine in one of the cities.
Follow @lois_abraham on Twitter.