Lentils and lamb, or even a little venison

Contributing WriterOctober 19, 2013 

As I sit here inside a warm house eating my lamb and lentils soup, my heart goes out to those brave gentlemen in the woods now climbing over hill and dale trying to bring home a dead deer, another meat much like lamb in its dark flavor and general unpopularity.

Venison is a fancy name for deer meat, a name that tends to make it sound more tolerable than its flavor would seem to warrant.

Originally, venison meant deer, wild pigs, rabbits and goats. Goat is easy to believe. To me, venison and goat meat and lamb all taste quite a bit alike. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

Some people actually enjoy gamey meat. But many deer hunters con themselves into believing venison is delicious because they are disinclined to acknowledge that they love the hunting (including their hunting toys) more than the meat.

Similarly, there are hundreds of fish in the world that have more flavor than trout. But most trout anglers sing the praises of eating a bland, low-flavored fish such as trout because that tends to justify the trout fishing.

(Fishing and hunting are mostly shopping hobbies. Fooling yourself into believing trout or venison are international delicacies provides you with a shaky justification for buying a pickup truck, a boat, a trailer, a tent, tackle, rifles and scads of mosquito-abatement potions.)

I confess that I have hunted for deer. I have even shot one. I have tried to justify killing and eating something that tastes like an aged goat. It almost seems that, if you don’t consider the meat tolerable, even delicious, you can’t go play in the forest any more.

Actually you can. It is legal, even pleasant, to go spend time in the forest without killing something – fish, fowl or a wild, hairy mammal.

Feel free to experience the great pleasure of sleeping on the ground outside in the rain amid all those rascal mosquitoes. But somehow in old age, that’s not the great pleasure it used to be. When it comes to sleeping outside on the ground, the earth seems to be hardening.

Sitting inside in winter watching a football game can also be a great pleasure. And you don’t have to eat anything gross, least of all a football.

But I have recently had an epiphany, a discovery that it is inconsistent for me to scoff at venison while eating lamb. A huge percentage of people who eat deer meat will tell you they don’t like lamb. And I — with equal inconsistency — enjoy lamb but don’t care for venison. My only excuse is that venison can be closer to mutton in flavor. But the difference isn’t great.

This subject is especially fascinating for Idaho natives like me because Idaho boasts tens of thousands of sheep and grows about a third of the nation’s lentils. Lentils are like dry peas used in split pea soup — but a pea that has been stepped on and flattened into something that resembles a tiny track-and-field discus.

However, lentils have a more earthy flavor than peas or beans. And yet, tens of thousands of Idahoans dislike lentils as much as they hate lamb.

That’s like the French hating wine, the Italians hating spaghetti, New Yorkers hating Broadway or the U.S. House of Representatives hating obstructionism.

Sometimes strong flavors such as lamb and lentils almost seem to tame each other and create a whole new flavor. So I wonder if venison wouldn’t be as agreeable with lentils as lamb is.

I think I will put on a red jacket, go outside and walk across the fertile fields of Idaho hunting for lentils.

Contact columnist Bill Hall at wilberth@cableone.net or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.

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