Lentils

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If you’ve been reading my blog for any time now, you’re probably aware that I’m in love with legumes of all kinds. White beans, black beans, beans of all sizes, shapes, and colors. And, of course, all kinds of lentils. East Indian cuisine refers to all of these as dal, or dhal, but I am used to the word legume.

The wonderful thing about legumes is that they are terribly inexpensive. I made sure both of my daughters knew how to cook beans when they set off on their own. If you’re on a budget, it’s really good to know how to create a lovely pot of any kind of beans. Cooked beans can be dinner, lunch, or breakfast. They can be a soup, salad, entrée, dip, side dish, and much more.

Lentils are also healthy because they have protein, as well as a lot of fiber. So between that and the fact that they’re cheap, it’s a definite win-win! I actually learned everything I know about beans when times were tough. I refer to those as our “lean” years. I managed a food co-op, which also helped with the grocery bill at the time, and spent a couple of years eating beans. But I still love them!

Today I’m focusing on lentils, because they’re even easier than beans to prepare. Mostly because beans are their larger counterpart, so more cooking time is involved.

My favorite are the lentils called Le Puy, from France, that I can order online for approximately $8. – 10. per pound. But there are both Spanish and Italian lentils that look and taste the same to the Le Puy varietal. Plus I just learned but haven’t sampled a French variety called du Perry. And I’m sure lentils grow elsewhere in the world as well.
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The Le Puy are my favorite because they hold their shape, and they have a real meaty taste. But there is another, more popular and available lentil, at least to Americans. They are only called lentils. No other name. I used to turn my nose at this variety and think of them as inferior, because within minutes these lentils turn to mush. But they do taste good, they’re still healthy, and sometimes you want lentil soup. In that case, these are the ones to buy. They’re also less expensive than imported lentils, at approximately $1.20 per pound bag.

Le Puy lentils on the left, regular lentils on the right

Le Puy lentils on the left, regular lentils on the right

The Indian orange and yellow varieties also mush up easily, which makes them wonderful for soups as well, plus dips. If you want them to hold some semblance of shape, you just have to be vigilant when cooking.

Today I’m going to show how easy it is to prepare lentils. I’m doing a side by side cook of the regular “grocery store” lentils, and Le Puy lentils. By the photos, you’ll be able to see how differently these two varieties cook up, and I’ll give some suggestions on using them.

And speaking of photos, I need to apologize in advance. On this day, I’d taken a walk outside because it was warm and sunny, and when I came inside to cook the lentils, I completely forgot to change the white balance. What a difference that adjustment can make!

Lentils

12 ounces lentils, dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Approximately 18 ounces of chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Weigh the lentils and place them in a large bowl.
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Fill the bowl with hot water to about 2″ above the top of the lentils. Set the bowl aside for one hour.

regular lentils

regular lentils

Le Puy lentils

Le Puy lentils

When you’re ready to continue with the recipe, heat up the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

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Add the onion and garlic to the saucepan and sauté them for 5 minutes.

Once one hour has passed, the lentils will have hydrated and almost reached the top of the water. Drain the lentils in a colander.

these are the regular lentils

these are the regular lentils

Once the onion and garlic are ready, pour in the drained lentils. Then immediately add the chicken stock.
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Add the chicken stock till it hits right at the top of the lentils.
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Then bring the lentils and broth to a boil, cover the saucepan and reduce the heat.

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For the regular lentils, cook them 10 minutes. They will look like this when they’re done. When you give them a stir, you can see that they mush up, or disintegrate. Notice also that there’s no liquid at the bottom of the pot.
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On the other hand, after 15 minutes, the Le Puy lentils have soaked up most of the liquid, and they hold their shape, even after vigorous stirring.

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Remove the lentils from stove and let them cool. The regular lentils will continue to absorb liquid, but the Le Puy will not.

Because of the fact that the regular lentils disintegrate, I like to use them for soups. They can easily become a dip as well, but the dip won’t be pretty. Use your pink or yellow lentils for those dips.

Today I “souped” up the lentils by adding more chicken broth and giving them a good stir. I could have alternatively puréed the lentils in a blender for a smoother soup. Then I and added some grilled Kielbasa, or Polish sausage, and topped off the soup with a dollop of sour cream.
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The lentils, of course, can be seasoned in any way you desire, and other ingredients like leeks, red bell peppers, celery, and carrots can be added to the aromatics. Thyme is really nice with lentils, as is some white pepper. Today I kept things plain, because lentils really have good flavor on their own.

For the Le Puy lentils, I also kept them plain, but paired them for lunch with curry-seasoned chicken breast.
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In fact, curry powder ingredients go really well in lentils, as do any seasonings. You can even make them Southwestern as well, adding jalapenos, ancho chile powder, some chipotle peppers, and cilantro. Lentils are very versatile.
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As you can see, the Le Puy lentils really hold their shape even though they’re fully cooked. That’s why they’re so perfect as a side dish like this, or on their own as an entrée.

Fruit Cheese

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So what is fruit cheese? It’s a terrible name, really, but that is exactly what it’s called in this book:

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Karen Solomon is the author.

The fruit cheese is really a fruit paste. It’s similar to the wonderful quince paste or membrillo that’s served alongside Manchego on a Spanish cheese platter. Except that my paste ended up a somewhat different texture to membrillo. Nonetheless, it’s worth making this fruit cheese at least once. There’s no effort involved to speak of, it just takes a few days to complete.

Here’s what I did; the ingredients are slightly adapted from the original recipe:

Apple-Pomegranate-Plum Fruit Cheese

1 1/2 pounds apples
1/3 cup dried pomegranate seeds
1/3 cup diced dried plums

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1/2 cup water
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel and core the apples. Cut them up and place them in a tall pot. Add the pomegranate seeds and diced plums.
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Then add the water, sugar, and salt.
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Cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer the fruit for about 20 minutes.

Using a potato masher, mash up the apples.
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Do this as often as you can to get a nice mush. The fruit has to be fairly smooth. And now that I think of it, I could have used an immersion blender. But I think I had it in my mind that I wanted to see the pomegranate and plum part of this fruit cheese.
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It’s kind of a tedious process, but keep after it. Then continue cooking over the lowest possible heat to remove as much liquid as possible, with the lid off.
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Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper, and pour the fruit mixture on top. Smooth it out; it should be about 3/8″ in thickness evenly.
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Let the fruit paste sit on the parchment paper overnight. It should be a little dried out. I peeled the paste from the paper and you can tell the paper is wet.
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Then place a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet, and place the fruit paste and the paper on which it’s laying on top of the rack. Place everything in a 200 degree oven for 3 hours. Leave the oven door ajar.

The fruit won’t look any different. Let it cool, then let it sit overnight once again. It should be mostly dry.
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At the point where the fruit cheese’s liquid has mostly all evaporated, but the paste hasn’t been allowed to over-dry, wrap it up in parchment paper and store it in the refrigerator. Supposedly it’s good even after 6 months.
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The only problem with this recipe, is that there are no accompanying photos. I really wasn’t sure how to serve this slab of fruit paste. Membrillo comes in many forms, from rectangular flats to thicker pie-shapes, so I guess it really doesn’t matter. The point is that the fruit paste is really good with cheese.

Just for fun, I decided to use a little scalloped cookie cutter to cut out the fruit cheese.
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For my company, I paired the fruit cheese with triple creme Cambozola – one of my favorite bleu cheeses. I must say, it was a fabulous combination.

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verdict: I probably won’t make this again, especially with membrillo so readily available anymore. And there are other fruit varieties out there as well. If you have young kids at home, this is a fun way to make what is essentially the equivalent to a fruit roll-up, however. Especially with cheap apples in season.

Romesco Sauce

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My brain is old. At least, that’s my excuse. Or maybe my brain is just full of food-related trivia. Because occasionally I come across a culinary term or food name and I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the heck it is.

But Romesco is one of those I remember. But it’s only because of a trick, not because it’s more significant in any way.

You see, I can remember Ro-mesco, because it reminds me to think of Ro-asted red bell peppers. And that’s exactly what this sauce is. The base, at least, is roasted red bell peppers. It’s extremely easy to make. In fact, you can use jarred roasted red bell peppers instead of roasting your own.

But the taste? It’s to me, the best flavor ever of anything that doesn’t contain cheese. And that’s saying a lot. If you’ve never made Romesco sauce before, it’s high time you did. You will slather this beautiful red sauce on anything, including yourself, if you run out of breads and meats. It’s just heavenly.

Besides the red bell pepper flavor, the sauce includes almonds, garlic, paprika, and cayenne. It’s Spanish in origin. And similar to a pesto, it all comes together with some olive oil. Only a food processor or blender is needed to make this. In 5 minutes tops you will get the opportunity to smell and taste heaven. Promise.

Romesco Sauce
This recipe makes about 12 ounces

1 – 8 ounce jar of roasted red bell peppers
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1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup tomato puree
1/3 cup coarsely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, depending on your taste
1/2 teaspoon salt

Drain the red bell peppers before you begin.
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Have all of the other ingredients ready to go.
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Place the drained red bell peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add the almonds, garlic, tomato puree, parsley, and red wine vinegar. Then add the hot paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt.
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Begin processing. The mixture will be very coarse at first.
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Continue processing, adding the olive oil a little at a time. It is also important to wipe down the sides of the jar with a spatula.
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After all of the oil has been added, process until the sauce is smooth. There will be some texture to it, but it will still be a smooth sauce.
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At this point, it is ready to use.
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I chose to make a Mediterranean-inspired lunch using the Romesco spread on a flatbread, and with grilled shrimp placed on top.

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I also added some buratta and fresh cilantro; I was out of goat cheese – shame on me.

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I bet you’re already thinking about all the ways you can use this sauce. It’s exquisite, isn’t it?!!

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Fortunately, Romesco sauces freezes well. Otherwise, plan to use it before a couple of weeks if you store it in the refrigerator.
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And thank you daughters for my cute labels!

Red Pepper Confit

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Confit is a French term for something cooked in fat – the most well known being duck confit, which is duck legs cooked in duck fat. But I’m thinking that the term is used a little more loosely these days, because I’m starting to see more vegetable confits.

One vegetable confit I’ve made is with piquillo peppers, based on a Spanish recipe, so I’m using that as inspiration today to make a red pepper confit with over-the-counter roasted red bell peppers. Piquillo peppers are fabulous, but honestly, I’m not sure I could tell the difference between roasted piquillos and roasted red bell peppers in a blind taste test.

For this confit, I’m not using duck fat, but olive oil. It’s a good way a have a vegetarian option for anyone stopping by around New Year’s.

This confit is an easy recipe, and it stores for quite a while in the refrigerator, assuming there’s any left over. So here’s my recipe, and I must say, it’s pretty darn good and addicting!

Confit of Red Bell Peppers

2 – 16 ounce jars roasted red bell peppers, whole or in pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Few grindings black pepper
Olive oil
Crostini

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees farenheit. Drain the roasted red bell peppers well in a colander, then lay them on paper towels and blot them dry.

Place the peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the salt, and blend, but not until it’s smooth – we’re not making baby food. It shouldn’t be chunky, but there should be some texture to the mixture.

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This recipe makes about 6 cups of confit, so choose what size baking dishes to use. I used two smaller heat-proof dishes so I could freeze one while serving the confit in the other. (But I’d personally use only one dish fairly shallow dish if I was expecting extra folks over.)

Place the baking dishes on a jelly-roll baking pan. Pour the red bell pepper mixture into your baking dishes. Divide the sliced garlic between the dishes, and top with a few grindings of black pepper. Then carefully pour olive oil onto the red bell pepper mixture until it covers it by at least 1/4 inch.

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Cover the dishes tightly with foil. Place in the oven and cook for exactly one hour. Turn off the oven and remove the foil, but leave the baking dishes in the oven to cool slightly, for about 30 minutes. Then remove them from the oven to continue cooling.

If you’re having the confit right away, serve warm, with a little serving spoon. If not, let it completely cool, cover again with foil, and refrigerate.

Serve the confit with hearty seedy crackers, pita breads, or crostini, as part of an hors d’oeuvres platter. I served mine as is, but it’s also fabulous paired with cheese – especially a creamy goat cheese.

The confit would also be fabulous in a panini, or processed with white beans for a roasted red bell pepper-flavored white bean dip. So many options!

note: I sprinkled the crostini in the photos with chopped fresh rosemary and it was really good. Next time I might stick a fresh rosemary sprig in with the baking confit…

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