By CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
For The Basin Business Journal
PULLMAN — Mid-August is the time to celebrate the Palouse and some of its more unique produce as the National Lentil Festival comes to Pullman.
“This is our 31st year,” said Britnee Christen, director of the National Lentil Festival for the Pullman Chamber of Commerce. “It’s our own unique harvest festival.”
More than 20 different kinds of lentils are grown in the Palouse region of eastern Washington, though Christen said much of the focus of the festival will be on the pardina lentil — the simple brown lentil most American cooks are familiar with.
“Our region used to produce around 25 percent of the nation’s lentils,” Christen said. “Today, it’s around 15-18 percent because the crop has caught on.”
The two-day festival, which begins on Friday, Aug. 16 and lasts through Saturday, Aug. 17, in Pullman’s Reaney Park, will feature music, beer, a parade, three-on-three basketball, a lentil cooking demonstration and free chili Friday night from what event organizers say is “the world’s largest bowl of lentil chili.”
“You’d be surprised how for many people that’s their first taste,” Christen said.
As for the rest of the food served at the festival, Christen said vendors get creative — it isn’t simply all Indian dals or Egyptian kusheri.
“All food vendors are required to serve one lentil dish,” she said. “There’s a lentil chocolate truffle, lentil stir-fry, anything you can think of.”
“It’s our opportunity to educate people about lentils. They’re a great option for cooking on a budget,” Christen added. “It’s such a versatile plant; it can be used in so many ways.”
The festival will also feature music from county and rock artists Clare Dunn, SmithField, Melodime, Aaron Cerutti, The Talbott Brothers, The Fabulous Kingpins and Andru Gomez and the Bad Apples.
“We pack as much in as we can,” Christen said.
According to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. is the world’s fourth largest producer of lentils, behind Canada, India and Turkey. Much of the U.S. lentil crop is exported, however.
“It’s still an important commodity,” she added. “It’s unique and puts us on the map.”
In 2017, the U.S. exported slightly more than 244,000 metric tonnes of lentils — primarily to Canada, Spain, Colombia and Mexico.
Lentils — which get their name from the lens-like shape — are a staple crop in parts of the Middle East and across South Asia, and archaeological evidence suggests they were among the first crops humans cultivated around 13,000 years ago.
As a legume, lentils are high in protein and fairly easy to cook, and the plants produce their own nitrogen as they grow.
“They are a crop that could change the way people eat,” Christen said.