Have you ever made lentils? If not, you really should do it once. You’ll be hooked. Why? They’re so good. And healthy. They have lots of protein as well as fiber, so lentils are a stick-to-your-bones kind of a food.
For this recipe I used Spanish Pardina lentils that I purchased at Williams-Sonoma because I’d never heard of them. French Le Puy lentils are my favorite because they’re really small, but meaty in texture and flavorful. Regular grocery store lentils are also good; they’re bigger than the many European varieties, and less expensive because of the lack of the “gourmet” aspect.
Whichever you choose to cook with, however, they all work. Be prepared, though, that the grocery store variety, at least in the U.S., will disintegrate into mush, even when you try to not overcook them. Which is fine if you’re making soup.
One thing I do with lentils is soak them in water first because they are dried. This way they hydrate in the water, and then take little time to cook. I know some people don’t follow this first step, and you don’t have to, either. But it’s what I do routinely with all legumes.
Here’s what I did for this recipe:
Lentils with Ham
2 1/2 cups dried lentils
2 tablespoons oil or baking grease or duck fat
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1-2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
Place the lentils in a large bowl and cover with 3 times as much water. Let sit for about 4 hours; the lentils will not overhydrate so don’t worry if you forget about them. If you have less time, put the bowl in the microwave and heat the water for 5 minutes on high. The lentils will be hydrated within 2 hours. Then drain and set aside.
Pour the olive oil in a large stewpot and heat over medium high. Add the chopped onion and red bell pepper and sauté for about 4-5 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary – I don’t know your stove. A little caramelization on the veggies is good, but you don’t want any burning.
Add the drained lentils, give things a stir, then add chicken broth until it just covers the lentils. Add the seasoning. I don’t include salt because of the ham. Besides, you should always taste your dish to check the seasoning at the end. There’s always time to add salt.
Bring the pot to a boil, cover, and simmer the lentils for 15 minutes. They should be done perfectly.
Add the chopped ham, and stir gently to incorporate. I say gently because you don’t want to mush up your lentils. This isn’t lentil soup. But, as I mentioned above, the European lentils hold their shape.
Heat through. If there’s a little too much liquid still in the pot, simmer uncovered until it evaporates. Then serve hot! Some people (me!) love a dollop of sour cream with their lentils!
note: This is a seriously meaty recipe, because that’s how my husband likes it. For a less meaty version of lentils, you can cook a little bacon or pancetta dice first before continuing with the recipe, and omit the ham. If you want a vegetarian version of lentils, you can include cooked, chopped potatoes and carrots (leftover roasted veggies!) in this dish along with the onion and red bell pepper. For a spicy lentil stew use chorizo and some chopped jalapenos. YUM!