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February 2, 2015

Lazy lentils

Not photogenic,
But easy and delicious.

Give lentils a try.
~ The hedgehog

Sadly, cooked lentils do not make for the most attractive-looking dish. This is a shame, since lentils are easy to prepare, versatile and truly delicious. The preparation can be simple or elaborate and is flexible enough to be used for soups, stews, salads and side dishes.

The recipe uses a 1:3 lentils to water ratio, resulting in fairly moist lentils will some flavorful liquid in the bottom of the pot. Increasing the water ratio to 1:4 will produce a stew, and 1:5 will result in an excellent soup base. Reducing water to by half a cup will result in drier lentils perfect for salads 1.

A few peppercorns and a bay leaf lay the aromatics foundation; from here add what you wish. Parsley stems, a small bunch of thyme or a rosemary sprig will all result in a more complex flavor.

Lazy lentils
Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side
  • 3 Cups cold water
  • 1 Cup green or brown lentils, picked over for rocks
  • 1-2 pieces of bacon, rashers, speck, pancetta or speck 2
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 5 peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt to taste
Fast and tasty
Rinse the lentils in cool water. Peel the onion, carrot and garlic, cut each one in half. Combine with the remaining ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender (start checking 20 minutes after boil is reached). Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

10 minutes longer, much more delicious
Finely chopping the vegetables, briefly cooking the bacon to render out the fat and using it to sauté the onions has a dramatic impact on flavor, well worth the few additional minutes of work.

Rinse the lentils in cool water, add water to cover and leave to soak while prepping the rest. Peel the onion, carrot and garlic.
Heat a splash of oil in the pot over medium heat. Add the bacon, and brown slightly on both sides.
While bacon is cooking, cut the onions. Slicing the onion in half pole-to-pole, then cutting each half into semicircles and finally chopping each one allows for easy control over size of the dice without struggling with a wobbling onion. The thinner the half-disk and smaller the cut, the finer the dice.

Grate the carrots.

Add the chopped onion, bay leaf, peppercorns (and any other aromatics) and a pinch of salt to the browned bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Slice the garlic into large slivers. Add to the pot, stir, and cook until fragrant, another minute or 2.
Add the grated carrots, drained lentils and water, stir. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender (start checking 20 minutes after boil is reached). Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
Lentils love acidity, so stir a splash of balsamic vinegar into each bowl before serving, or add 2 or 3 Tablespoons to the entire pot once it's off the heat.

For an even more substantial meal, grate Parmigiano Reggiano 3 over the lentils before serving.

Quick soup
Increase the water to 5 cups, and follow the more complex recipe. Once the lentils are cooked, stir in a handful or two of washed spinach or arugula leaves. The residual heat will wilt the leaves and preserve the green color.

All variations of this recipe can easily be made with most other pulses - chickpeas, pinto beans, black eye peas, etc. If using dried legumes other than lentils, soak them overnight first, and increase the cooking time. Start checking the beans after 40 minutes. Simply squeeze a bean between thumb and forefinger. If it smashes with little pressure, it's done.

1For this preparation, slice the onion and carrot in half and keep the garlic cloves whole for easy extraction after cooking.
2Continental Europe, the UK and US have confusing differences in cured pork product nomenclature. The photos show Dutch bacon, or what would be referred to in the UK as rashers, and does not exist in the US. The closest American equivalent is Canadian bacon, sadly lacking all-important flavor component of fat. American bacon, on the other hand, is known as streaky rashers in the UK, and speck in Netherlands and the rest of Continental Europe. Pancetta, which can be rolled or flat, is never smoked, American bacon almost always is. UK rashers come in both smoked and non-smoked varieties. A visual guide to this all-important food will be coming soon.
3Never throw out leftover Parmegiano Reggiano rind. Freeze it in a Ziplock bag, and add it to soups and stews (including this recipe) for a major umami boost.

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