Monday, March 2, 2015

Ooh-La-La Lentils

I'm not sure if it's something that comes with age or what, but I'm totally finding new love for simple foods.  A decade ago, I would have found bread and butter dull and lifeless.  I wouldn't have thought that a good broth could be an experience.  I would have told you that lentils were bland and boring.  And I would have been wrong on all three counts. Quality ingredients prepared with a patient hand and a seasoned palate can elevate even the simplest of dishes.

Let's go back to those lentils.

Lentils have iron, protein, folate, fiber...they're pretty much a super food.  They've been cultivated and eaten by cultures around the world for pretty much forever, providing nourishment to our ancestors.  They are plentiful and affordable.  And, on top of all that, they are delicious.

There are many different types of lentils, but for this dish, I go for French green lentils.  They're a little harder to find than brown or even red lentils, but they have a great size and texture, and their flavor has a little something extra that I just can't get enough of.  This is basically my version of what I call "Stanley Tucci's Lentils", because his lentil recipe in The Tucci Table inspired me to enjoy them more often. You can serve this dish over rice or with a nice baguette on the side, or just eat them as is on their own.  I like the baguette route, because it mentally transports me to a European countryside, where I can sit enjoy the fresh air as I eat a rustic bowl of lentils.

First, chop up an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a stalk of celery, and a carrot.  Heat a good couple of glugs of olive oil in a large pan, then saute the veggies over medium heat until they are soft.  Try not to let them brown at all.  Lower the heat if needed.

Rinse 3 cups of lentils, then add them to the pan, tossing so the the olive oil covers them.

Cover the lentils with chicken stock until they are fully covered by at least 1/4 inch.  You can use water too, but I like the flavor that the stock adds.  Sprinkle in a bit of cumin, some fresh ground pepper, about a teaspoon of salt, and a bay leaf.  Give it a stir and bring it all to a boil.

Once the lentils are boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are the texture that you want.  I prefer a bit al dente, but not crunchy.  Check the lentils to make sure that the liquid has not all boiled out, and add water if necessary.

Chop up some parsley and zest a lemon, and toss all that into the cooked lentils.  Take out the bay leaf.  Taste and season as necessary.  I like to squeeze a wedge or two of lemon in mine.

This is a hearty side dish, a great nutritious small meal, or even a healthy snack.  It reheats like a dream, so if you make plenty, it can last you a while.  You can also take leftovers and simmer them up in some more broth with some chopped tomatoes for a fantastic lentil soup.  Looking for something with a little more crunch?  Mix leftovers with some seasoned breadcrumbs and an egg and then pan fry spoonfuls in olive oil to make lentil fritters. do you feel about lentils?

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