Growing up, we ate lentils galore.
Packed with protein, fiber and folate, they’re hearty, stick-to-your-ribs ingredients, popularized in America by 1971’s “Diet for a Small Planet.” Mom – well-meaning, health-conscious and thrifty – tucked lentils into almost every soup or stew throughout the 1970s, ’80s and beyond.
Mentioning how good they were made me – as a kid – want to eat them even less. I still picture the legumes by the bowlful – mushy, watery and brown, with onions and a few carrot discs for color.
I bought them anyway as a young adult, keeping them on hand as an affordable and versatile staple. Maybe I was just used to having them on the shelf. For years, I kept them as an emergency food.
Now, I’m not really the veggie burger type. When I used lentils early on in my own cooking, it was mainly how Mom did – in comforting soups or stews. But they still weren’t my favorite.
Then I moved to Eastern Washington – lentil country – and discovered I love their rich, earthy flavor in salads, particularly paired with peppery greens, a colorful vegetable like beets or butternut squash, and maybe a little chevre.
Lentils add a chewy nuttiness to spicy greens and mild grains – from arugula to quinoa. While they’re still often associated with so-called “hippie food” and those warming winter soups and stews, lentils can be used in recipes to make things you might not expect – from chocolate cake to breakfast pancakes.
And – like Mom said – they’re good for you.
These days that knowledge makes me want to consume them. And it seems like I’m in just the right place. The Palouse – the self-proclaimed “Lentil Capital of the World” – pumps out more than 1 million pounds of lentils each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
However, most of the lentils grown here are shipped to Spain, Mexico, Italy, India and other places where they are more widely consumed.
So here are a few recipes that put the spotlight on the little legumes – just in time for this weekend’s National Lentil Festival.
Chocolate Lentil Molten Cake
From WSU chef Jamie Callison, as featured in “The Crimson Spoon: Plating Regional Cuisine on the Palouse” by Jamie Callison with Linda Burner Augustine
3 tablespoons green or brown lentils, rinsed and sorted
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
4-ounce bittersweet chocolate bar containing 60 percent cacao
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons finely chopped, skinned hazelnuts
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon orange zest
Bring 1 cup water to a boil in small saucepan. Add lentils, cover and simmer over low heat until lentils are soft but still hold their shape, about 15 minutes. Drain lentils, transfer to a bowl and cool.
Lightly coat eight 4-ounce ramekins with softened butter and sprinkle with sugar, shaking out excess. Place on a baking sheet. Break chocolate bar into 16 equal pieces.
Preheat oven to 375.
Melt chocolate chips in a saucepan over low heat or in a double boiler; set aside. Whisk eggs until lightly beaten. Add sugar, butter, hazelnuts, flour, orange zest, and salt and mix until smooth. Stir in melted chocolate and lentils. Spoon batter into prepared ramekins.
Bake until cakes are set and tops are puffy and slightly cracked, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, then immediately press two chocolate pieces vertically into the center of each cake. Cool 5 to 10 minutes, then run a knife between the cake and ramekin edge and carefully remove cake; transfer to a serving plate. Serve with a scoop of ice cream.
Yield: 8 servings
Yellow and Red Lentils with Melon, Cucumber and Feta
From Hayden Smissen, marketing and events chef for Whole Foods Market
3/4 cup dried yellow lentils, rinsed and sorted (Smissen uses Shasta yellow lentils from PNW Co-op)
3/4 cup dried red lentils, rinsed and sorted (Smissen uses Sunrise red lentils from PNW Co-op)
4 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups English cucumber, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup watermelon, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cantaloupe, diced into 1/2 -inch cubes
1 cup feta cheese, diced into 1/2 -inch cubes
2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Rinse lentils thoroughly. In a pot, add the lentils, water and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, or until all lentils are tender but still hold their shape. Gently rinse in cold water to remove excess starch and reduce the temperature.
In a large mixing bowl, add all ingredients except for the lentils. Mix well, then add the lentils at the end and gently toss together.
Yield: 6 servings
Chilled Red Lentil Ginger Lime Soup
From chef Robin Leventhal, Wine Country Culinary Institute and CraveFood.com
2 tablespoons grape seed or canola oil
1/2 cup shallots, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
2 cups water
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed, sorted and soaked for 15 minutes in water (Leventhal uses Sunrise red lentils from PNW Co-op)
1 cup chopped tomatillos
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish
2 slivers Serrano chili, plus garnish
1 teaspoon lime zest
1/8 cup lime juice
Scallions, slivered for garnish
Cucumber, slivered for garnish
In a 2-quart saucepan on medium heat, saute oil, shallots and salt until fragrant. Add ginger and toast until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add water, coconut milk and lentils. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add chopped tomatillos, cilantro and slivered chilies. Cook 10 minutes more, until lentils are tender. Puree with a stick blender and add lime zest and juice, adjusting salt as needed. Serve chilled, garnished with cilantro sprigs, sliced cucumber, serrano, lime and a drizzle of coconut milk.
Variations: Add poached prawns or crushed peanuts. Garnish with bean or lentil sprouts or slivered apple, especially a tart varietal like Granny Smith. Serve with cold bean thread noodles for a more substantial meal.
Yield: 1.5 quarts
Green Lentil, Beet and Red Onion Salad with Goat Cheese
From “The Ginger and White Cookbook” by Tonia George, Emma Scott and Nicholas Scott
9 beets, trimmed but unpeeled
1 1/2 cups green lentils
1 cup Canola Oil and English Mustard Dressing (recipe follows)
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
1 red onion, sliced
1 cup crumbled goat cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 390 degrees. Put beets in a saucepan of water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender. Drain well, then rub off the skin and cut into quarters.
Meanwhile, cook the lentils in a pan of boiling water for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender but not slushy. Drain in a colander, hold under running water until cool, then drain again.
Place the lentils in a large bowl and stir in half the dressing. Add the parsley and top with the beets and onion. Sprinkle the cheese over the top, add a twist of black pepper, and serve with the remaining dressing on the side.
Canola Oil and English Mustard Dressing
From “The Ginger and White Cookbook” by Tonia George, Emma Scott and Nicholas Scott
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2/3 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup cold-pressed canola oil
Combine salt and mustard in a bowl. Add the vinegar and slowly trickle in the oils, whisking until emulsified. Alternatively, put all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake thoroughly rather than whisk.
Moorish Lentil Salad
From “Leon: Ingredients and Recipes” by Allegra McEvedy
1 cup Puy lentils
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 stick celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice, with any leaves roughly chopped, too
1/2 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 small garlic clove, sliced
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Scant 1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Small handful parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Soak lentils in water for an hour or so.
Heat the oil in a heavy ovenproof pan over medium heat and add the vegetables, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cook gently with lid on the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then stir in the drained lentils. Add the red wine vinegar and simmer until all of the liquid has evaporated. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Add the chicken stock and cover with waxed paper and foil. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until lentils are tender with a slight bite. Let cool. Stir in lemon juice and parsley before serving. Season to taste.