Ah, humble lentil. I have never really managed to like you unless you were in a BPA-laced Progresso can, bathed in salt and “other natural flavors,” or perhaps in a soup bowl in a Middle Eastern restaurant, surrounded by an intimidating series of ingredients that I couldn’t even begin to suss out. When my college friends would prepare you, you would arrive in a lake of cumin, and this made you and your comrades reek of culinary insecurity. You were the vegan drug of choice, the poor man’s bourguignon, the cupboard mainstay. You were like that ex from sophomore year, always there to be dug up and dusted off every few months, approached with fresh eyes, and ultimately discarded once again when everything turned out the same. What is it about you, lentil, that makes you so easy to bring home but so difficult to love? Things between us just never seem to work.
Like any failed relationship, our incompatibility has inspired several theories. First off, I think that your frequent proximity to cooked carrots was always a problem for me — I only like cooked carrots when they’re prepared in particular ways, and boiled to a bland and mealy death is not one of them. Also, you have a hard time maintaining your integrity among friends. What starts as a delightfully mottled pile of lentil brethren inevitably seems to end in a lump of monochrome mush. And last, you refuse to accept salt as your personal savior, despite so desperately needing it on your team. Without salt, you are just a pseudo-edible pebble leading a pointless existence behind half-used bags of pasta and and forgotten cans of albacore.
But all right, lentil, I can recognize some of your finer qualities. You have lots of protein and iron, and that makes you an excellent choice for omnivores masquerading as herbivores. You also last forever (see “pointless existence,” above), often standing in as one of three or four edible items in my kitchen right before I go grocery shopping. Perhaps you deserve another look, now that I’m older and wiser? I might be willing to settle for reliable now that I’ve been around the block a few times, though I’m also cool just staying friends.
Warm French Lentil Salad with Broccolini and Goat Cheese
(serves two people, both of whom are me)
-1 cup of French lentils (AKA “blue lentils” or “green lentils” — they hold their shape really well)
-1 bunch broccolini, chopped into bite-size pieces
-2 shallots, sliced into thin rings
-juice from half a lemon
-a few tbs of goat cheese, crumbled
-1 peeled and crushed garlic clove
-1 tsp fresh rosemary needles
-lots of salt
Rinse and drain the lentils in cold water, picking out any debris (stones, plant matter, body parts — I’m never sure what recipes are referring to when they say this, but I’m just covering my bases). Put them in a pot and cover with a few inches of cold water, bringing to a boil for two minutes and then draining and rinsing once more. Put them back in the pot and cover with cold water again (about 3 inches above their surface), adding the rosemary and the garlic clove, along with about half a teaspoon to a teaspoon of salt. I like my salt, so I go a little nuts. Bring it back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking for about 20 minutes. Do not overcook these babies, or you’ll be in mushville.
While the lentils simmer, put a pan on medium-low heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. When it’s hot, add your shallots and fry them until they start to brown. Reduce the heat to low and let them get crispy. You’ll know they’re done when they’ve transformed into dry, crispy little threads of browned loveliness, whispering around the pan. Set the shallots aside on a plate and turn the heat back up to medium, adding another tablespoon of olive oil. Your lentils may be about done now, so drain them and set them aside to cool. Turn your attention to the pan again, adding the broccolini and sautéing it for about a minute until the color deepens. Squeeze your lemon juice over the top, and sprinkle with salt. Sauté until the broccolini starts to brown, and then turn off the heat. You’ve got all your pieces, now it’s time to assemble them.
First goes the broccolini. Then put some lentils on top. Add the shallots and the crumbled goat cheese, along with a few twists of ground pepper. If you want to get decadent, add a drizzle of good-quality olive oil on top.
Remember how weird it sounded when I told you to squeeze lemon juice over the broccolini? And you were like, “okay, I guess…” and went along with it, even though you had your doubts? You’re not so doubty now, are you, Thomas? The lemon juice is what makes this taste salad-like, almost like it contains some kind of tart vinaigrette. If no one’s around when you’re eating this, I would suggest mixing it all together in a bowl and adding more goat cheese. The flavors really do combine well, and I would have done it myself if I hadn’t needed to photograph the result for posterity. (Though once the camera’s off, who knows what happens at headquarters, right? That’s why we call it the secret menu.)