I’m trying to mix it up a bit. It’s a new year and, while I will remain forever loyal to my pantry standards, I have resolved to amp up my foodie-exploits and to think outside of the proverbial box. Not that lentils are going that far out on a limb, but they are a hearty and welcome change of pace from my typically pasta/rice/couscous heavy diet. Stewed with carrots, celery and fennel, these lentils are a gratifying lunch as well as a perfect side dish for roast chicken or a seared filet of salmon. A bean with plenty of starch-like qualities, lentils are rich with protein and goodness. Top them with softly poached eggs, the yolks spilling onto the beans creating the perfect bite, and you have a fantastically flavorful and healthy vegetarian meal. Poached eggs with lentils rewarded my experimental efforts handsomely. Now, if only all resolutions were this easy to keep…
In keeping with ‘mixing it up a bit’ I decided that fennel’s delicate anise flavor would be a lovely complement to the lentils. You will find fennel bulbs in the produce section of nearly any grocery store. Begin by slicing the large bulb in half, vertically. You will be able to see the hard knot of the root at the base of the bulb. Carefully slice this off, making a triangular shape with your knife. Once the core is removed, peel off the outer layer of the fennel and dice the bulb. One medium-sized bulb will yield between one half and one cup of diced fennel, just the right amount for this recipe. Make sure to reserve some of the fennel fronds (the pretty, wispy leaves at the top of the stalk) for garnish.
*don’t have any fennel handy? Go with an onion. While not the same as the fennel, it will work perfectly with this dish.*
In addition to the fennel, you will need to assemble one quarter cup of carrots, diced, one half cup of celery, diced, one and one half tsp of minced garlic and one half tsp of fresh thyme, minced.
Preheat a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat. Add one tbs of unsalted butter and, once melted, saute the carrots, celery and fennel with a pinch of kosher salt.
Allow the veggies to cook down for five minutes, stirring often. Once the fennel, carrots and celery begin to soften, add the garlic, thyme and one quarter tsp red pepper flakes. Warm for one minute until fragrant.
It’s time for the lentils! I am using French green lentils in this recipe. Add one cup of lentils to the vegetables along with three and a half cups of vegetable stock.
Bring to a boil, cover with the lid on the pot tilted just slightly, and turn the heat to low. The lentils will simmer for twenty to thirty minutes, until they are tender and full of flavor. I know that ten minutes is a pretty broad cooking swing, but I am yet to have consistent luck with this legume. Just make sure to taste the lentils along the way. You are looking for a tender texture with just a hint of bite – al dente as they would say in Italy.
Add an additional tsp of kosher salt to the lentils during the last five minutes of their cooking time along with one quarter of a tsp of freshly ground black pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Once cooked through, drain off any excess stock (I also serve these with a slotted spoon) and toss with one tbs freshly chopped parsley. While the lentils are finishing up, poach the eggs.
Plan for two eggs per person for a lunch serving or one per person for a fancy start to dinner. Plate the lentils and shower with freshly grated parmesan. Top with the eggs and fennel fronds and serve. I hope you enjoy my venture into the world of lentils… if you have any tips/tricks/tactics for negotiating these legumes feel free share! Bon appetit!
- one half and one cup diced fennel, plus fronds for garnish
- one quarter cup carrots, diced
- one half cup celery, diced
- one and one half tsp minced garlic
- one half tsp fresh thyme, minced
- one tbs unsalted butter
- one quarter tsp red pepper flakes
- one cup French green lentils
- three and one half cups vegetable stock
- one tbs fresh parsley, minced
- freshly grated parmesan cheese for garnish
- four eggs
- distilled white vinegar (optional)