The hot, hazy and humid summer weather typical of Long Island has started early this year, but that doesn’t mean I am giving up my lentils. I like the taste, the price and the fact that, unlike many of the other legumes, they don’t need pre-soaking.
Nutritionally these tiny almost-beans, almost-peas are giants. According to the Mayo Clinic’s Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., “…lentils are high in protein and fiber and low in fat, which makes them a healthy substitute for meat. They’re also packed with folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium and fiber.” So hip-rah, hip-rah! You should always, always, always have lentils in your pantry.
In winter I make hearty lentil soup, but hot weather calls for something cooler and lighter. I use a recipe — inspired once again by Penelope Casas’ The Foods and Wines of Spain. Have it as a main course with boiled potatoes or rice, or pair it with grilled sausages (from andouille to kielbasa..lentils love a good sausage partner). Lentils also marry well with grilled fish steaks; you can use the lentils as a bed, perhaps accompanied with polenta. This serves four as a side dish; you may want to double it for a BBQ accompaniment or main course.
½ lb uncooked pardina lentils (smaller and cuter than your average lentil, but you are free to substitute*)
1 onion, peeled. Cut in half, leaving one half whole and mincing the other half
1 bay leaf
1 carrot scraped or peeled (scraping helps maintain a brighter color)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/8 tsp salt (a fat pinch)
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup good olive oil
1.5 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs drained and minced roasted red pepper from a jar, plus 1 Tbs chopped for garnish
Rinse and pick through lentils and place in a large pot with enough cold water to cover. Stick the clove in the onion half (reserve the minced onion), then add to pot with bay leaf, carrot, smashed garlic, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, until just tender (longer if using regular green lentils). Drain and rinse well in cold water. Remove onion (and any clove that has fallen out), bay leaf and garlic. Dice carrot and place in serving bowl with lentils. Add olive oil, vinegar, reserved mined onion, chopped garlic and minced red pepper and mix gently (you don’t want the lentils to fall apart). Let rest for at least a half hour and serve, topped with reserved red pepper as garnish.
*Green lentils are great for salads because they keep their texture. Brown can get mushy and red lentils fall apart when cooked too long, If you choose them as substitutes, start checking the texture after 15 minutes of simmering.