I’ve been eating a lot of legumes this past month – from chickpeas, to dried beans and now lentils. I’ve started to gain a new appreciation for how to make a meatless meal seem interesting, without sacrificing taste or aesthetics.
I’m not a stranger when it comes to lentils. One of my favorite preps is dal (either masoor dal or chenna dal), served with rice, chatni, perhaps a raita and a pickle. There is also lentil soup, with a ham bone, smoked pork or bacon. A meatless version might have onion confit or sautéed mushrooms, for the “umami” taste without their being any meat involved. If I had some Marmite, I might consider adding a teaspoonful as well.
As an aside, you probably won’t see too many recipes revolving around tofu, seitan and tempeh here on Simple Kitchen Seasons. Now, I do love a bowl of tofu, particularly silken tofu in dishes such as hiyayakko or ma po dofu. One of these days, I want to learn how to make agedashi tofu, in which cubes of tofu are coated in breading, then deep-fried so that the exterior is crispy, and the insides are meltingly soft. Well-made agedashi tofu is akin to eating a savory tempura ice cream, especially if it’s greaseless. If you can master that, you can deep-fry anything without fear.
The main reason why I’ve drawn a line against tofu, seitan and tempeh is because those don’t hold much interest for me (aside from purely Chinese and Japanese preparations). I’d rather work with “real” food, and in the process, maybe spark someone’s interest or imagination along the way.
Lentil and Escarole Ragoût
For the lentils:
1/2 cup dried brown lentils
5 cups water
1 large bay leaf
a large pinch of sea salt
In a saucepan, combine the lentils, water, bay leaf and sea salt. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partly covered, for 25 to 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and set aside. Discard the bay leaf. You may want to consider reserving the lentil cooking liquid for another use; try substituting it in place of water the next time you cook rice or dried beans.
For the ragoût:
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)
1/2 large onion, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stalk, trimmed and finely diced
1 tablespoon celery leaves, finely minced
1 carrot, peeled, trimmed and finely diced
sea salt, to taste
freshly milled black pepper, to taste
cooked lentils (see above)
1 cup escarole leaves, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley, for garnish
extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish (optional)
Warm the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or a heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. Add the butter, if using. Add the onion, celery, celery leaves and carrot. Cook the battuto over low heat until the vegetables begin to soften, about 15 to 20 minutes. You’ll probably have to stir frequently to prevent the vegetables from browning. If they do brown, either the heat was too high to begin with or you’ve gone for too long. Add a small pinch of salt and black pepper at this point.
Add the cooked lentils and escarole leaves to the pot, and raise the heat to medium. Cook until the lentils are warmed through and the escarole has wilted completely, about 6 to 8 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve at once. Garnish each serving with some chopped Italian parsley and extra-virgin olive oil, and some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (if desired).
Time: About 1 hour and 15 minutes, including prep.
Note: If you omit the butter and cheese, this recipe becomes vegan.