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Lentils (superfood!) are the future, and you can either embrace it or form an orderly line of haters to the left

I’ve been cooking for about four years now, and I’ve done all variety of different types of crap (literally, some of it has tasted very bad). In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been messing around more and more with lentils — you’re probably familiar with ’em, but if you’re not, here’s the Wiki — and goddamn, some of the tasty stuff I’ve ever made comes with lentils involved. For example, last night I made this:

  • 3 cups water

  • 1 1/2 cups dried lentils

  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

  • 2 cups chopped onion

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped peeled celeriac (celery root)

  • 1 cup diced parsnip

  • 1 cup diced carrot

  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon, divided

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 1 garlic clove, minced

  • 2/3 cup dry red wine

  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation

  1. Combine water, lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and bay leaf in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes. Remove lentils from heat, and set aside.

  2. Heat olive oil in a medium cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celeriac, parsnip, carrot, and 1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon, and sauté 10 minutes or until browned. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, tomato paste, and garlic; cook mixture 1 minute. Stir in wine, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in mustard. Add lentil mixture, and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; discard bay leaf, and stir in butter, 1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon, and pepper.

It was stunningly amazing. I’ll pull quote another one I’ve messed with down near the bottom of the post, too.

This article pretty much runs down all the excellent things about lentils — cheap, relatively tolerant of drought, don’t require pre-soaking, can be ready in 15-20 minutes, really hard to mess up if you’re a beginner cook, good hot or cold, pairs with numerous flavors — and this article points out how long they’ve been around (a really long time) and that in Brazil and Chile on New Year’s Day, they’re often consumed as a symbol of prosperity. Here’s a good quote from it:

Because lentils are one of the best plant-based sources of protein on the planet, their ability to play the part of meat can’t be overstated. “Indeed, the phrase so often applied to the lentil, ‘the poor man’s meat,’ is only derogatory if you put the emphasis on ‘poor man’s’ instead of on ‘meat,'” writes Waverly Root in “Food,” his 1980 tome. “This may well have been meant as a compliment by the first users of the phrase.”

Some believe that grain-based dishes are becoming somewhat of a “food revolution” (mostly moving pasta off the plate), and Slate here talks about how a ‘former bean skeptic’ came around because of red lentils (one of the many kinds) and his slow cooker.

They’re a brain superfood, and they’re essentially one of the most venerable crops of all-time. Because of their general ability to function in drier conditions, they’re considered a food that can ‘feed the world,’ as in this paper from Australia. (Rice would obviously be another one.) They’re all the rage in Australia now, too.

We see articles about ‘super foods’ all the time — here’s one and here’s another proclaiming teff (Ethiopian) as one — but one of the most amazing things about the lentil, to me (and maybe this sounds naive / probably does sound naive) is how long it’s been around, how versatile it is, and how it keeps coming back into favor with different communities and dishes. The first time I read Jared Diamond, I remember him saying something about how, broadly speaking, China is the only country among the big eight-twelve that has gone thousands of years with (relative) peace. Now, China has other problems, for sure — but its stability is certainly an interesting aspect of its history. I almost feel like the lentil is the China of basic cooking. It’s maybe not always in favor, but it’s always around, and it’s always important. You could probably make a solid bar argument out of the fact that it’s a top-five food in the world in terms of ease of growth, function, etc. I’d probably have rice No. 1, but I could see lentils as No. 3 or No. 2. I’m not sure who exactly would engage in this bar argument, but I’m sure there’s a couple of dudes out there who would.

Here’s the other recipe I had messed around with. Put some red pepper in there for a kick and it’s amazing:

1 large onion, chopped
1 cup finely chopped carrot
3/4 cup dried lentils, rinsed
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can chicken broth or 1 (14 1/2 ounce) can almost 2 cups chicken broth
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
Directions:

1
In a 3 quart baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray, combine the onion, carrots, lentils, rice, cheese, green pepper and seasonings. Stir in broth and tomatoes.
2
Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350°F for 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 hours or until the liquid is absorbed and lentils and rice are tender.

Ted Bauer

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