Hi. It’s me. Welcome to my annual attempt to remind you that December is the most important month of the year to feed yourself well. Not abundance “well.” I’m talking home cooked food “well,” veggies, fruit and grains “well.” Before you assign this post to the read in January, new year, new you in-box, hear me out for two more seconds now why you need to add Braised Lentils to your December cooking tool kit.
Braised Lentils are my go-to plant protein and satisfy meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-frees and everybody else. I inhale them hot, warm, cold and at room temperature. Lentils cook quickly (no pre-soaking required) and reheat like a dream. I cook them in abundance and use them throughout the week. For braising and salads, I prefer French green lentils. They are a smaller and firmer than the brown lentils most commonly found at the conventional grocery store. The little green lentils are pricier and a bit more elusive to find than the brown. But peeps, we’re talking about legumes. We’re not comparing pink slime ground beef to freshly ground Prime Rib. This is a pound of beans feeds millions type of food where the price difference becomes an investment in your health on a per meal basis when amortized over the course of your life. (Yell at me in the Leave a Reply section, below, if I went too far in that last sentence.)
This week the lentils were perfect as a vegetarian filling for baked potatoes for dinner, served as the foundation for a knock out lunch the next day with canned tuna and baby arugula mixed in, scooped up with tortilla chips for a quick snack before dinner and then transformed into a lentil rice soup for breakfast the next day when heated with broth, partially pureed and warmed with leftover takeout rice. Braised Lentils will definitely appear as a companion to fried veggie pancakes on my Chanukah table next week (favorite veggie fritter post coming very soon).
Another reason for the nudge is earlier this week I forgot about my dear lentils. Feeling a bit overwhelmed with overflowing to-do lists and in a vegetarian dinner idea rut, a friend emailed me her favorite vegetarian recipe, for this lovely The Best Lentil Salad, Ever. I have yet to try this specific recipe; that said, I’ve prepared and taught a number of variations on this same theme through the years and know how wonderful and flexible it will be. Inspirations function as they do, and this recipe inspired instant images and scents of my beloved braised lentils spilling out of a salt-crusted baked potato. A little weird. There’s no such thing as a coincidence so we just go with it.
The image tells you about the dinner presentation – we really like fresh goat cheese, chevre, hence the overload. Adapt to your taste, if at all. I haven’t been food shopping since before Thanksgiving (rut, I told you, which drives creativity …) which is why the salad looks a little sad given the meager handful of arugula, a few salvaged celery leaves, leftover toasted, chopped walnuts combined with the remains of a killer Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette. Even if you have no plan beyond the lentils, do yourself a favor and cook them tonight to get ready for the week. Poached eggs right in the bed of lentils in the saucepan would be a crowd pleaser. Please do share your discoveries below. I’ve been enjoying the feedback you’ve emailed and would love the entire Essen community to benefit from your insights and changes. Whatever you do this week, please make sure to laugh at least once a day.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, small dice
2 large shallots, small dice
2 carrots, peeled and small dice
3 stalks celery, small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup French green lentils
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups chicken stock or water
1 herb bundle (use what you have, I used thyme, rosemary and sage)
- Build flavor. Heat a 3-quart saute pan (wide and shallow); add olive oil, onion and shallots and cook until just softened. Add carrots and celery; cook until tender, about 4 – 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook until aromatic, about 1 – 2 minutes.
- Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste to cleared area and cook, stirring constantly, until it starts to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Stir paste into vegetables and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Paste may stick a little; do not let it burn.
- Add the body and cook. Add the lentils and wine; stir to scrape up bits that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan and allow wine to evaporate. Add stock, increase heat and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the lentils are very tender and not mushy, about 30 – 35 minutes. Peek at lentils every so often to ensure liquid covers the lentils; add more liquid of choice if liquid evaporates too quickly. Uncover and continue to cook for a few minutes until liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with salt.
- Make the garnish. Meanwhile, mix together garnish ingredients and set aside.
- Serve. Place lentils on individual plates. Garnish with a dollop of dill crème, as desired and serve with accompaniments.