Lentils

February 12, 2009

Lentils are friendly—the Miss Congeniality of the bean world.
~Laurie Colwin

Lentils are those pungently earthy members of the legume family—which are plants in the pea family that split open naturally along a seam revealing a row of seeds. Some archealogical digs have suggested that legumes may be the oldest crop known to humanity. Lentils are commonly found in dried form and possess superior nutritional qualities with high levels of protein.

The green lentilles from Puy, in the rocky Auvergne region in France, are considered the caviar of lentils. The arid climate, abundant sunshine and volcanic soil conditions offer a flinty, nutty flavor which has garnered the beans an Appelation d’Origine Controlee (AOC)…a quality label recognized by the French government bestowed upon products meeting specified standards.

LENTIL SOUP

1 C dried lentils
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 oz pancetta, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 14 oz can san marzano tomatoes, diced
2 rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 t freshly toasted coriander, ground
1 t freshly toasted cumin seeds, ground
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Red wine vinegar

In a bowl, first drain and rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve.

Toast and grind coriander and cumin seeds.

In a large heavy Dutch oven, cook the pancetta in olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes; then add the onions. Cook for another 5 minutes before adding the celery, carrots, rosemary, bay leaves, coriander, cumin and lentils. Stir well, ensuring the oil coats everything well.

Add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, allowing the soup to cook for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove the bay leaves before serving, and salt and pepper to taste. Kindly drizzle some fine red wine vinegar over each bowl.

LENTIL SALAD

1 1/2 C lentils
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 oz Virginia ham
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
Water to cover

1 qt chicken stock
1 bay leaf
a few springs of fresh thyme
Sea salt
2 oz Virginia ham, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
Freshly ground pepper

2 T red wine or sherry vinegar
2/3 C walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve and remove any foreign matter.

In a large heavy Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and and cook the onion and ham over low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Transfer the lentils to the same heavy Dutch oven, then cover with cold water, which should cover the lentils by at least 3-4 inches.

Bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from heat and drain in a fine mesh sieve.

Return the lentils to the pan, add the stock, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf; bring to a gentle boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Skim off the surface. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the lentils are just tender, about 30 minutes.

Combine the mustard and vinegar and whisk to blend. Add the walnut oil and shallots, and continue to whisk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the bacon in a large nonstick skillet and cook over moderate heat until done. Set aside on paper towels.

When the lentils are done, drain them well, then toss with the vinaigrette. Remove bay leaf and thyme. Let stand until the lentils have absorbed the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with diced bacon. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm.

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