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Published April 04, 2014, 09:17 AM

Prairie Fare: Split peas and spices inspire exotic dish

“Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, cover and cook until they pop, one minute.” Now that I read the instructions outside of my kitchen, the directions certainly are clear about covering the pan.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, cover and cook until they pop, one minute.”

Now that I read the instructions outside of my kitchen, the directions certainly are clear about covering the pan. Unfortunately, I missed the part about the cover. As soon as I added the mustard seeds to the pan, most of them escaped from the pan, like out-of-control popcorn kernels.

As the seeds sputtered, I pulled the pan from the stove and ran to extract a cover from my cupboard. These little mustard seeds were ejecting oil all over my countertop. As I searched for the cover, I envisioned the frying pan exploding into flames. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

I reduced the heat, added more mustard seeds and covered the pan as directed.

When I added cumin powder to the mixture, my kitchen was filled with an Indian-inspired flavor extravaganza.

This was my first foray into using an Indian cooking principle called “tadka” or tempering. Heating spices helps release their aroma and flavor. After mixing in the cumin, I added curry, turmeric, a minced chili pepper and a little salt.

Fortunately, I had premeasured all the spices, so I moved quickly.

Yellow split peas were the stars of the dish. I had cooked the peas according to the directions on the package, so they were ready to go. When I stirred them into the pan, they were bathed in a flavorful spice mixture that made my mouth water. I couldn’t wait to taste this.

Split peas are member of the pulse family, which also includes chickpeas and lentils. All of the pulse foods provide abundant protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Their low cost and mild flavor make them welcome additions to cuisine around the world.

Most of us are familiar with green split peas. This recipe used yellow split peas, which usually are found next to the green peas in most grocery stores.

They immediately picked up the flavor of the various spices.

After removing the split pea mixture from the pan, I stirred in fresh spinach, which picked up the delicious spicy residue in the pan as it wilted in the heat.

Spinach is a nutrition all-star that is rich in natural pigments called carotenoids, which are converted to vitamin A to help maintain healthy skin and eyes.

The dish also featured “quinoa,” a seed that is part of the grain food group.

Quinoa is cooked similarly to rice, with a ratio of one part quinoa to two parts water or broth. It takes about 20 minutes to cook.

About the time I was wilting spinach and combining all the ingredients with freshly squeezed lemon juice, my 18-year-old son came in the kitchen to investigate the exotic aromas permeating our house.

“Something smells really good,” he noted.

“Do you want to try it?” I asked as I put my gold and green creation in a serving bowl.

“Sure. I’m hungry,” he said.

I wasn’t holding my breath that wilted spinach, split peas and quinoa were ingredients a young man would find appealing. Sometimes your kids surprise you.

“This has layers of flavors. I keep tasting something different,” my teenage gourmet remarked as he scooped another portion onto his plate.

He must be watching the Food Network to learn about flavor profiles, I thought to myself.

Flavor is the main reason why people choose their foods, so why not choose flavorful foods that also provide excellent nutritional value?

Whether it’s a pulse food, a new spice or a different method of cooking, explore the world of foods. Try out combinations of spices that you already may have in your cupboard. You might discover new flavor sensations that you and your family or friends will enjoy.

Just remember to cover the pan when you are tempering the mustard seeds in heated oil.

Spiced Lemon Quinoa with Split Peas

¼ cup yellow split peas

5 teaspoons olive oil, canola or sunflower oil

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 serrano chili, minced

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon kosher salt

9 ounces loosely packed baby spinach

3 cups cooked quinoa (start with 1 cup quinoa and cook as package directs)

1 ½ Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro

Sort and rinse the split peas in a colander. Simmer split peas with 2 cups of water in a small saucepan until just tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry with a towel. Measure the curry powder, chili, turmeric and kosher salt into a separate container.

Heat oil in large frying pan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, cover and cook until they pop, one minute. Stir in cumin; cook a few seconds until sizzling, then stir in split peas, curry powder, chili, turmeric and salt. Cook, stirring often, until split peas start to turn golden, two minutes.

Transfer to a bowl. Add spinach to frying pan, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring until wilted, one to two minutes. Drain any liquid. Stir in quinoa, split pea mixture and lemon juice. Add more lemon juice and salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro.

Makes five servings (1 cup each). Each serving has 230 calories, 7 grams of fat, 8 g of protein, 36 g of carbohydrate, 7 g of fiber, 280 milligrams of sodium, 1.3 micrograms of folate and 4.4 mg of iron.

Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.