The Dish That Triggered My Life-long Love Affair With Lentils I wasn’t a huge fan of mom’s cooking as a kid. There was however a handful of dishes she prepared to perfection. Lentils with curry and ham hock was one. She would fry off onions, garlic, and carrots in curry powder, add a handful of lentils that she’d soaked overnight, and top it off with a big old pigs foot. Like her mother before her, she’d cooked it so many times there was no measuring required, she cooked it by feel, and with love. You could taste it.As a kid of course the pigs’ foot totally grossed me out, but my god did those lentils taste like something from heaven – slightly al dente with a full, beautiful, rich, porky flavour wrapped in the warmth of curry spice. That rich, earthy aroma would engulf the entire house prior to dinnertime, which only made my father and brothers salivate even more. That dish triggered my life-long love affair with lentils.Many grains offer a pleasant texture but lack flavour, or vice versa. Lentils however tick all the boxes; a lovely combination of nutty earthiness, a hint of sweetness, and gorgeous full mouth feel. Further to that, the subtle flavour differences between the various varieties of lentils means you can continue to experiment until your taste buds are content.As a chef, my personal mantra often goes against the grain of other chefs. I don’t believe we need expensive local in-season ingredients to create incredible food for our family. I think a keen cook, especially a professional chef, should be able to create dishes that are greater than the sum of their parts. For me, lentils fit that mandate perfectly; affordable, great texture, huge flavour, and packed with nutrition. It’s hard to find a grain that delivers all that.As a busy, single father with 2 kids of my own now, I always endeavor to create recipes that deliver big flavour, nutrition, but are also fast. Those goals gave birth to this recipe.I’m using red split lentils here as they don’t require soaking and they cook fast. Within around 30 minutes, with only 10 minutes of actual hands-on time, I have a deliciously bold one-pan dinner on the table for the girls and I, with leftovers for school lunches.As mom demonstrated to me when I was a kid, lentils dance well with any kind of pork products, they also respond well to Provençal herbs such as thyme and rosemary. In this recipe however I pulled inspiration from North Africa, the warmth of cumin and rich depth of smoked paprika; spices that layer up beautifully upon the already nutty earthiness of lentils. I’ve used chicken here but you could also use sausages, or skip the meat altogether for a tasty vegetarian lentil stew.My kids are huge fans of this recipe, just as I was with my mom’s ham hock lentil dish. I encourage you to play with this recipe, explore new ingredients and make it your own. For me recipes are inspiration, I hope this one inspires you, and like my mom’s recipe did for me, create memories through the food our family shared.Chef Mike WardBeginning his cooking career at the bright-eyed age of 17 in Sydney, Australia, Mike never believed he would one-day prepare meals for such clientele as Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, and Nicole Kidman. Mike has cooked in some of Sydney’s and Toronto’s most acclaimed restaurants and has owned and operated several catering companies over the years. Mike has had a rare and valuable mix of both successful culinary and media careers. In early 2000, Mike expanded his creative pursuits beyond restaurants to include producing and directing award winning cooking/travel/lifestyle television series that have been viewed in over 40 countries.