Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Living in a student cooperative, the variety of food available is often overwhelming. There are dozens of ingredients I would never buy for myself available on a daily basis. In the time I spent living in a co-op, I learned to cook foods that were foreign to me, foods I just never had growing up and would simply skim over on restaurant menus, frankly because I didn't know any better. I learned to work with and come to love ingredients like tofu, collard greens, and coconut milk. But living back at home, I have several picky eaters in the house that are wary of our family's simple eating habits. Ingredients I relied on in the co-op just didn't make it into our grocery bag. That's okay, I certainly don't mind being a little flexible. But once in a while I pine for something beyond our family's routine.
Lentils are one such dish. It's not that lentils are foreign to my family, it's just not something we usually eat. But when I saw Ina Garten's warm French lentils in her new cookbook, I knew I had to have them. They're warm and homey, scented with onion and cloves and bursting with flavor. The carrots and leeks make the perfect duo amongst these lentils, and a gentle drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt give the dish a perfect finish. Dishes like this are so comforting, they almost feel nostalgic, yet I have no memory to link these lentils to. This is food that takes you to a place you were never aware of and invites you to linger and enjoy the experience.
I barely changed Ina's recipe. The dressing for the lentils seems very salty on its own, but after the lentils sit for a minute or two, the lentils soak up the flavor and the dish tastes perfectly seasoned. The only thing I omitted was the turnip she added to the cooking liquid, and I didn't use French lentils, just the brown lentils that were available at my local market (which I suppose are less refined). The rest seemed too perfect to change a bit. Whether lentils are part of your typical diet or you rarely eat them, you're sure to enjoy the simple comfort of this delicious dish.
Adapted, very slightly, from Ina Garten's How Easy Is That?*
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, sliced 1/4 inch thich
2 carrots, peeled and 1/2 inch diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup lentils
1 whole onion, peeled and stuck with 6 cloves
1 teaspoon butter
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saute pan. Add leek and carrots and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Set aside.
2. Place lentils, 4 cups of water, and the onion with cloves in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and add the leek and carrots. Simmer uncovered 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender. Discard the onion and drain the lentils. Place them in a medium bowl and stir in butter.
3. Meanwhile, whisk 1/4 cup olive oil, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour the dressing over the lentils and stir well. Allow the lentils to cool until just warm, about 15 minutes. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve with bread.
*Please ignore the nasty book reviews on Amazon. I really think this book is lovely and beautifully put together. There were many recipes that I'm just dying to make (and many that I already have). As for those who said Ina's book was out of touch and not exactly "easy," Ina never intended the book to be filled with three ingredient recipes that you can throw together in 15 minutes. Unfortunately, many Americans only consider food "easy" if it can be ready simply by pressing the button of a microwave. This book is about creating good food using relatively straight forward ingredients and simple techniques. I think it's an excellent book.