Lentejas, lentilles, lenticchie … whatever language or culture you look to you will find this tiny powerhouse. Lentils have been part of our diet for thousands of years. It’s thought to be one of the first domesticated crops during the Neolithic era. Lentils are a relatively inexpensive ingredient and come in several pretty colors. On a recent visit to Whole Foods in White Plains I found three different types in the bulk section of the store. You will notice that their organic brand is only about a dollar more in price that the basic green found in the grocery store. So not a bad deal.
Nutritionally you can’t beat this ingredient. They are low in fat, high in fiber and contain Vitamins B, C and folate. In my lentil research I discovered that they are very close to being a “complete” protein. While they are the third highest protein by weight of any plant, they are actually missing a couple of amino acids. Simply put, if you eat lentils with either grains or rice you have easily substituted the complete protein of meat or fish.
Lentils are just about the simplest ingredient to cook as well, requiring no soaking. They are completely versatile as well, adaptable to soups, stews, burgers and salads. Last week there was an article about lentils in the paper which got me to thinking that it might be fun to show you a few easy recipes using them.
First up, an easy soup. I sautéed a red onion and garlic in coconut oil and then added fresh ginger and just two of these spicy dried chilis. If you don’t have them on hand a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes will work too.
The red lentils I picked up that day were split, so cooking them is even faster. As this variety simmers they break down slightly adding a natural thickness to the soup. I was going for a “Thai” inspired flavor, so red curry
More after the jump …
coconut milk and Justin’s Classic Almond Butter was the ticket. (Any almond butter will do, I like that one in particular and always keep it stocked in my pantry!)
I finished the dish with a little fresh basil and dried coconut. The colors were just beautiful .. but more importantly, the flavors really rocked together.
On to my next dish. While I was at Whole Foods that day I happened to spot these pretty yellow beets. I really learned to cook beets, and beans for that matter, correctly in the kitchen of Tarry Lodge. I’m fond of saying that Andy Nusser taught me many things there, but in particular the fine are of beet, bean and octopus preparation. I can’t even begin to tell you how many thousands of pounds of those ingredients I cooked on a weekly basis. Really mind boggling when I think about it.
I do like to roast beets, but boiling them is just as tasty and it allows you to add more flavor to them. To the pot of cold water (starting them just as you would a potato) you add salt and sugar. Bring to a boil and allow them to simmer until a paring knife slides in easily. Remove and cool them slightly enough to peel. It’s important to keep them warm, again, just as potatoes, they will soak up the vinaigrette like a little sponge.
While my beets were cooking I sautéed a little red onion (left from the soup dish) and white. You can use whatever you have just get the onion nice and caramelized.
Add your lentils and about 3 times the water. The only salt that was in the pot at this point was from seasoning the onion. Another important point I learned from Andy: not to add salt to your beans while cooking them. (Yes, I know lentils are not actually beans, but I’m going somewhere with this …) The salt is added at the very end while they are cooling down. Some chefs add while cooking and others at the end. It’s totally up to you, but remember: you can always add salt, you can’t take it out. For this exercise during my “cooling down” time I added the salt a little at a time and tasted as it was absorbed. The result was perfectly seasoned lentils.
After cutting my beets into small cubes I tossed everything with a nice vinaigrette of lemon juice and olive oil and garnished with parsley.
One my way home that day I decided on swordfish steaks for dinner. We hadn’t had that in a while, and I was thinking the salad would be a perfect side to go along with it. The particular way I’m going to show is with fresh herbs, and I think a nice way to make them. I will say that once you get the herb chopping done it’s smooth sailing; but, you need to do this by hand – there is no other way. Finely chopping will release all the beautiful oils and flavors from the herbs and make the fish sing.
Use whatever you have on hand. I always have fresh herbs in the ‘fridge. I keep them in one of the drawers just as you see on the left, in water. They literally last a week, thyme even longer; but they need to be in the drawer. If the drawer is not an option then cover them with a plastic produce bag and place in the door of the ‘fridge. My combo this time was parsley, basil, thyme and mint. Yielding about 2 cups of chopped herbs. To that I zested one lemon and 2 cloves of garlic. Mince it all together and spread out on a cutting board.
Season your fish with extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Press one side of the fish into the mix.
In a hot grill pan, also seasoned with olive oil, lay the herb side down. Leave it for 3-4 minutes to set up a nice sear. If you think it might be burning gently flip it with tongs and lower your heat. The goal is to cook your swordfish steaks until the center just loses it’s translucent appearance. A one-inch steak will take about 3-4 minutes on each side. Take care to not over cook them … dried out swordfish is not very tasty!
I ended up with a little leftover from dinner and with a few extra ingredients re-imagined it for Larry to take for lunch the next day.
I hope you enjoy these recipes and please feel free to share any special ones you might have. I’m always on the lookout for something new to try.
Make a big batch of this tasty salad for dinner or lunch the next day. Perfect on it's own or with a piece of grilled fish or chicken.
- 1 1/2 lb beets, yielding 3 cups cooked
- 1 teaspoon each of sugar and kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup onion, 1/4" dice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- 6 cups water
- 2 cups mixed tiny lentils
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- For the BEETS: place in a small pot covered by 2 inches of cold water. Add the salt and sugar to the pot. Bring to a rolling boil then lower the heat and cook until the beets are fork tender in the center. A paring knife should slide in and out easily. When they are done remove from the pot and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Peel the outer skin off and chop into 1/2" cubes.
- For the LENTILS: (While the beets are cooking) In a heavy bottom pot saute the onion and garlic in the oil, seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
- When the onion is nicely caramelized add the water and lentils. Bring to a boil. Once the pot comes to a boil lower to a simmer and set your timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes and take them off the heat. The lentils should still be slightly firm. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and stir in. Wait a few minutes and taste them. If they need more seasoning add 1/2 teaspoon at a time until you get them to your desired flavor.
- Sitting in the water will also allow them carry-over cooking time. After about 5-8 minutes your lentils should be perfectly al dente. Drain them in a fine mesh colander and lightly rinse with cool water. Place in a large mixing bowl.
- MAKE THE SALAD: whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Add a couple of pinches of salt and pepper to season the vinaigrette. Mix the beets to the lentils and pour the vinaigrette over both. Gently fold everything together and add in the parsley.
- Serve warm or cold.
This is a deliciously spicy soup, ready in about 30 minutes. Perfect for a cool evening to warm you up.
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 cup 1/4" diced red onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 2 Thai chilis crumbled
- 8 cups water
- 2 cups split red lentils, about 1 lb
- 2 cups 1/2" cubed yam, about 1 1/2 lb
- 2 teaspoons red curry paste
- 1 cup light coconut milk
- 1/4 cup almond butter
- Basil for garnish
- In a heavy bottom pot sauté the onion and garlic in coconut oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of black pepper. When the onion becomes caramelized add the ginger and chili and cook for 1 minute more.
- Turn up the heat slightly and add the water, lentils, yams and curry paste. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cook until the yams are fork tender, about 15 minutes.
- Stir in the coconut milk and almond butter allowing the both to combine fully. Taste for seasoning.
- Serve with thinly sliced basil.
Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She’s an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmers, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.