The Elegance of the Lentil

LentilillustrationI'm sure somebody has done this already, but there should be a book solely filled with lentil recipes. A lentil bible.  And every kitchen should have one. The lentil is an edible pulse and part of the human diet since Neolithic times.

I inherited a bias towards lentils. Growing up in a conservative (Tory) household, the unspoken idea was that people who ate lentils didn't shave their armpits, wore hemp and hung out in muddy trenches at Greenham Common. I was so, so wrong. (I am also now a bleeding heart liberal who favors Birkenstocks, mu-mus, progressive education and sheep's milk yogurt).

I would argue for the elegance of the lentil - a simple, beautiful, shiny little bead packed full of nutrition and deliciousness. They are cheap, adaptable, adept at picking up flavors. Lentils are gloriously comforting and most cheering. For so long lentils have been the back-up singers. I'd like to make a case for them as the star of the show.

Amanda Hesser's single girl's salmon with lentils from the lovely "Cooking for Mr. Latte" is one of my favorites, a recipe I go back to again and again, with or without the salmon. My friend Marta's lentil soup gets a ringing endorsement - warm, homely, soothing perfection.

Yotam-Ottolenghis-crushed-006Last night I made this Ottolenghi recipe for my friend Dawn, who is a most forbearing vegetarian with an omnivorous husband (that is, he's a real cook who likes to cook meat). The mixture of puy lentils, tahini, cilantro, lemon, and tomatoes is pure heaven. And the hard boiled eggs on top? Wow.

Grateful thanks once again to Yotam Ottolenghi who has changed my life with his fresh, provocative, whimsical approach to Middle Eastern food.

Thank you, Yotam Ottolenghi!




Crushed Puy Lentils with Tahini & Cumin

From Yotam Ottolenghi in The Guardian: This sustaining meal-on-a-plate is a little bit like hummus, though much easier and quicker to prepare. With warm flatbread, I could eat this every day. Serves two as a main, or four as a starter.

200g/7oz puy lentils
30g/2 1/2 oz unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 medium tomatoes, skinned and cut into 1cm dice
25g/1oz coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped
4 tablespoons tahini paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
1/2 small red onion, peeled and sliced very thin
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered

Bring a medium pan of water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook for 15-20 minutes, until completely cooked, drain and set aside.

Put the butter and oil in a large sauté pan and place on a medium-high heat.

Once the butter melts, add the garlic and cumin, and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes, 20g of coriander and the cooked lentils. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then add the tahini, lemon juice, 70ml of water, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Turn down the heat to medium and cook gently, stirring, for a few minutes more, until hot and thickened. Roughly mash the lentils with a potato masher, so that some are broken up and you get a thick, porridge consistency.

Spread out the lentils on a flat platter, run a fork through to make a wavy pattern on top, and scatter on the sliced onion, the remaining coriander and a final drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm with the hard-boiled eggs alongside. 


Bumble Ward is a blogger and writer living in Los Angeles.  She grew up with a Norwegian mother and an English father and spent every summer on an island in the Oslo fjord.