Lentils & Walnuts

June 14, 2012

God gives the nuts, but he does not crack them.
~Franz Kafka

Not to be confused with other nuts or wingnuts…those outspoken, irrational people with deeply ingrained, deranged, flagrantly ignorant political beliefs, e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann, Fred Phelps and their ilk. The lunatic fringe.

Rather, walnuts are edible seeds harvested from deciduous trees of the genus Juglans, especially the Persian walnut a/k/a English walnut, Juglans regia. Walnuts are rounded, single-seeded stone fruits enclosed in a leathery green, fleshy, inedible husk. Inside the husk is the wrinkly, hard walnut shell, which encloses that kind kernel, which presents as two halves separated by a partition. Walnuts, like all seeds, are living organs which respirate. After harvest, the seeds continually consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide, so storage is crucial.

The common walnut is native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, extending from western China, into the ranges of Nepal, through present day Afghanistan and Iran, and finally Turkey. Alexander the Great introduced the tree to Greece and Macedonia, so it became known as the Persian nut. Later, ancient Romans imported the walnut tree into nearby conquered lands, such as Gaul and Brittania, where it has thrived since. Some espouse that North American walnuts assumed the moniker English walnuts, since they arrived in the colonies aboard English merchant ships.

The potential health benefits of walnuts cannot be understated — abounding with nutrients, particularly proteins, vitamin E, and essential fatty and phenolic acids, tannins, and flavonoids. They are also rich sources of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. A so-called superfood.

LENTILS & WALNUTS

2 C green lentils (preferably du Puy)
1 1/2 C cold water
2 C vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
3 fresh thyme sprigs

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Splash of sherry or red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Walnut oil, to taste
3/4 C walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
3/4 C artisanal chèvre (goat cheese), crumbled

Put the lentils in a medium, heavy saucepan with the bay leaf and thyme. Pour over water and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until tender, about 20-30 minutes. If the liquid is not totally absorbed, simply drain off any excess through a fine colander. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat and sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic for another 1 minute, then deglaze the pan with just a splash of sherry vinegar. Remove from heat. Toss the cooked lentils with the onion mixture, and then season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with walnut oil, add the walnuts, toss with crumbled goat cheese and serve warm.

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The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.
~William Shakespeare, from Mark Antony’s funeral oration in Julius Caesar

Sorry for the brief interlude, but I felt an urge to rest the pen. Please do not assume that raw materials are lacking as my WordPress “Dashboard” is backed up with unrequited recipes that are begging to bust loose. This is one of them.

Last night, we plowed through untilled ground: roasted bone marrow. Now, I have savored these scrumptuous apps quite a few times over the years at restaurants, and if I spy them on a menu it is nearly guaranteed they will be ordered. But, I have never prepared them at home, and now am left with absolutely no clue why these delicacies have been so rudely shunned in this kitchen. So many things fall through life’s cracks.

Step 1 of the roasted marrow process involves a chat with your butcher about cutting or rather sawing these bones to your specifications. At first blush, this would seem easy enough…but here it does present a certain challenge as the local grocery presents a tale of two butchers. One butcher, who will go by the name “M,” is affable, courteous and wholly accomodating while the other, “R,” is rude, hostile, and far from obliging. Asking R to carve a ribeye or strip to your liking (i.e., perform his function as a butcher) is akin to asking Ebeneezer Scrooge to donate funds to your favorite charity or insisting that Rush Limbaugh cast his vote for a homosexual African American Democrat. Simply put, when he is at the helm, R casts a pallor on one of life’s more beloved experiences—hunting and gathering at the store—while M unabashedly suggests, even pleads, that he custom cut for your night’s meal. To our good fortune and those of our guest’s bellies, M (and not R) was manning the meat department yesterday. So, we walked out with freshly cut bones for the evening’s appetizer and service with a smile. For his graciousness, I intend to pass this recipe on to M as he adores cooking too. I doubt R would care to read this post, so he will not be favored with a copy.

Heed my words. If you fear this offal known as bone marrow, you are sorely mistaken. Marrow is one of those opulent gifts at the table…rich, silky, buttery, and immensely subtle in character and flavor. There is supreme, toe-curling stuff interred in these bones making it one of those rare last bite on death row dishes.

PERSILLADE A LA MOELLE (BONE MARROW WITH PARSLEY AND GARLIC)

12 — 3″ segments veal marrow bones

1 bunch flat leaf parsley leaves, stems discarded and chopped
3 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 small to medium shallots, peeled and finely minced
2 T capers, rinsed and drained

2 T extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Grilled or toasted bread, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 F

Put the bones in a roasting pan and place in oven. Roast until marrow is loose and beginning to separate from the bone, but not drizzling out or melted, about 15-20 minutes depending on bone thickness. So, keep an eye on the roasting process so the marrow does not exceed the tipping point.

While bones are roasting, chop the parsley and gently mix with garlic, shallots, lemon juice, capers. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Brush the sliced bread with olive oil and grill or roast.

Remove marrow from oven and serve on plates with bread next to the persillade. At the table with small spoons or forks, scoop the marrow out of the bones onto the toast and top with a small dollop of the persillade.