It is a hard matter, my fellow citizens, to argue with the belly since it has no ears.
~Plutarch

A uniquely human quandry (luxury) in pampered modern civilization.  Subdued by what to eat, what to eat?  What sounds good tonight?  What are you in the mood for? Perhaps this will help some.

So often, indecision reigns with side dishes, particularly “starches”…searching for a bingo! in that seemingly endless cerebral scroll of rices, potatoes, tubers, squashes, couscous, polentas, risottos, noodles, pastas, and the like.  When in doubt, braised lentils are a favored plate guest sidled up to, spooning next to, or submissively underneath roasted, grilled or braised meats, poultry or fish.  These often untapped legumes are damn facile and as well as superlatively healthy.  Once on board, it’s hard not to obssess about blissful, earthy lentils.

BRAISED LENTILS

1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 C quality slab bacon, diced
1/2 C shallots, peeled and minced
1/2 C carrot, peeled and minced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 C green lentils, picked through for stones, etc.
1 1/2 C water
2 C chicken stock
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil, and then add the bacon, onion, carrot and garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the lentils, water, stock, thyme and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper and bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 20-30 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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I could have a roomful of awards and it wouldn’t mean beans.
~Bobby Darin

Sometimes called turtle beans, black beans (Phaselous vulgaris) derived from a common legume ancestor that originated in Peru. From there, these hard, shiny, ovoid beans were spread throughout South and Central America by migrating indigeneous peoples. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish explorers, returning from New World voyages, introduced these beans to Europe. They were subsequently strewn throughout Africa and Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders and are now savory staples in cuisines throughout the world.

Like other legumes, black beans abound in dietary fiber and are rich in antioxidant compounds. They are also a fine source of protein, as well as calcium, iron, folic acid and potassium.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

16 ozs black beans, washed and picked over for stones. debris and damaged beans
2 qts water

2 T canola oil
1 T bacon drippings or duck fat
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 t lightly toasted cumin seeds
2 t chipotle chili powder

Sea salt, to taste
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, seeded and finely chopped

Lime juice, from 1 lime

6 green onions, chopped
Plain yogurt or queso fresca
1/2 C chopped cilantro

Soak the beans in the water overnight. Then rinse well with clean water. Grind cumin seeds in a spice grinder or coffee grinder assigned that kitchen function.

Heat the oil and bacon drippings or duck fat over medium high heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, until hot and then add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about three minutes, and add the garlic, cumin and chipotle powder. Continue cooking, until fragrant, about one minute, then add the beans and soaking water. The beans should be covered by about two inches of water. Add more water as needed, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and skim off any foam that rises. Cover and simmer one hour.

Add the salt and chipotles. Continue to simmer another hour or so, until the beans are soft, and the broth is thick and fragrant.

Scoop out two cups of whole cooked beans with a straining spoon, then partially purée the remaining mixture using an immersion blender, or a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Return the purée and whole cooked beans to the pot or Dutch oven and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice. Ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with green onion, yogurt or queso fresco, and cilantro. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Pourboire: To shorten the prep time, skip the overnight soak and boil the beans for two minutes. Remove the pan off the heat, cover and allow to stand for two hours.

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.