At the start of the pandemic, when toilet paper and flour were flying off shelves, if they could even be found on them, everyone was loading up on beans. Which, ok, I guess. I usually have a good supply of dried beans on hand (most of them ancient). But if I had to panic buy a legume, it would be lentils, not beans.
No soaking. Ready in 20ish minutes on the stovetop. Super tasty. What’s not to love?
I love them as dal. I love them in salads. I especially love them in J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Coconut Lentil Soup with Cilantro-Habanero Gremolata. If potluck lunches and dinners are ever a thing again, bring this. It’s vegan, so everyone can have some, and it’s absolutely delicious, so everyone will. And it probably costs under ten dollars (In food costs; I don’t know what the 100-ish minutes of stove time will add to your utility bill) to make a big batch of it.
My favourite lentil of all is the beluga lentil. Inky black, even when cooked, they have a great, firm bite to them and hold their shape well. I usually make them the same way every time, a recipe for Ragout of Beluga Lentils I found online that I have since adapted slightly and now can make from memory. It has been out of the rotation in warmer months, but now that it’s time to procrastinate changing to winter tires, it has already made a few appearances. I find it works really well with sausage and salmon, but it would also be a great foil for a roast chicken.
Ragout of Beluga Lentils - Serves 4
2 or 3 strips of bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips - You can absolutely use butter or whatever oil you prefer if you want to keep it meatless.)
1 stalk of celery, diced as finely as you can. The goal is to have pieces of vegetable that aren’t way larger than the lentils themselves.
1 carrot-sized carrot, diced the same size as the celery - I grumble constantly about recipe writers who say “one medium carrot” and then give no more information about what that means and here I am doing it. You’re going to want equal parts of carrot, onion, and celery. The original recipe calls for two tablespoons of each, but I like to get more veg in there. I’m guessing I use between a quarter and a half cup of each.
Garlic or shallot, minced - Use what you’ve got. Use as much as you want.
Thyme - Fresh if you have it, but dried would be ok. I try to find one of those big sprigs with a bunch of branches. If you’ve got single sprigs, maybe use a few. I have no idea how much dried to use. Half a teaspoon?
1 bay leaf
Olive oil - Have it on hand in case your bacon doesn’t render enough fat. Add as needed.
1/2 cup of beluga lentils - If you can’t find belugas, de Puy lentils are the next best substitute, followed by regular brown/green lentils. Split lentils like dal, which have had their skins removed and are meant to get very soft, will not work.
1 1/2 cup of chicken stock - Or vegetable stock if you’re keeping it meatless. Or water if you have neither. Maybe add something to replace that lost savouriness. A big splash of Worcestershire or Maggi or fish sauce. Maybe a sauté a little dab of tomato paste with your veg. You could even drop a dollop of miso in when you add the stock.
Freshly ground black pepper
Many of you will have seen the cookalong stories I post on Instagram. I’m trying to figure out how to integrate that content into this newsletter. I think this week’s attempt will be a bit clumsy because everything for Instagram is shot in portrait mode, which will make this seem really long.
AAR (a long time ago I tried to make this abbreviation for “At any rate” happen. It was my “fetch.”) here’s how you make it.
Gather your ingredients. Having everything ready is definitely partly Bon Appetit Test Kitchen cosplay, but it’s also very important for getting things together efficiently and minimizing the chance of any mental errors in the heat of the moment.
Remember you need a shallot as well.
Sauté the bacon to render its fat. The goal is not to make it crispy, so a medium to medium-low temperature is what you’re going for.
When the bacon has given up all the fat it’s going to, add some olive oil if necessary so you have enough to lightly coat the diced veg you will now add. Again the goal is to soften, or sweat, the veg without browning it.
Toss in a bay leaf and your thyme sprigs and some salt. The salt will help release moisture from your veg, which will help you scrape up and brown bacony stuff that is stuck to your pan. And don’t bother stripping the leaves from your thyme sprig. They will all fall off by the time this is done and you can just pick out the sticks. I never understand why recipes tell you to pick off the leaves.
If the moisture given off by the veg isn’t enough, a little splash of chicken stock will help that tasty brown goodness release.
Scrape! That’s flavour you’re reclaiming!
Add your lentils and stir them to get them integrated with everything else.
Stir occasionally. If the pot runs dry, add more stock or just water.
Small sheet pans are so great. They can be spoon rests. They can help you roast a bunch of different vegetables at the same time but pull them from the oven at different times. 1/4 and 1/8 sheet pans are something every kitchen needs. In multiples. I use them far more than bigger sheet pans.
In a perfect world, at the exact moment your lentils are yielding to your bite but not mushy, all the excess liquid in the pan would be gone. In reality, you may need to blast a bit of heat to cook it off. The goal is to have no pools of liquid on the plate when you serve it. Oh, also salt and pepper to taste at this point.
As I said before, salmon is a great pairing for it, although I most often make it as a side for French Country Sausage, which is the only Rowe Farms product I find has much flavour.
If you follow me on Instagram, you will know I am terrible at plating. If you don’t, now you know. But follow me at @the_plate_cleaner, where I’m going to start posting my cookalongs from now on.
What I’m Consuming…
Very slowly, a nine-pound cabbage that was the smallest I could find at Fiesta Farms.
Pikliz from Rhum Corner, where we got take out last week. Pikliz is something like the Haitian national condiment. Shredded cabbage, habanero, and carrot in vinegar and lime juice. It is so good.
The Instagram stories of Anthony Novello, a fish butcher at Hooked, who posts locked-off videos of him cutting different species of fish set to music. I find it very soothing. If you’re not into seeing fish dismembered, I understand.
Several Manhattans, as I type this on the night of the US election, using writing as a way of not looking at my phone.
What’s on the menu…
It’s a warming and comforting week. Grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup. Lasagna. Fish stew. A couple of meatless meals and chicken is the only meat for the week. And more Spiced Indian Cabbage, of course.
I haven’t decided where our take-out is coming from this week. Probably from somewhere nearby. The big, well-known restaurants that are struggling get all the press, but the little holes-in-the-wall are suffering just as much if not more. Don’t forget to give them a hand too.