There is a lot I can say about lentils, and I wish I had the energy tonight to convey something intelligent to you (and no, my brain is not tired tonight from taking the Jeopardy online test – which went down not so well – but rather fatigued overall). I made these last week, actually, but I haven’t been able to post the recipe until now. It’s pathetic, I know. But I promise you I am still alive and cooking, just a less of the latter due to being busy and harried. Seriously – does January have a right to be this busy??
Here’s all I really want to say about lentils. They are little pebbles of earthy, energy-filled perfection that are an ideal dinner, lunch, or whatever you want to make of them. I must have downed dozens of bowls of my dad’s homemade lentil stew when I was growing up – cooked down for hours with the leftovers of a bone-in ham (including the bone, of course) simmering deep inside – and that rich and satisfying flavor has never left my memory. Even if I eat a different dish of lentils, I always compare it, subconsciously, to dad’s lentil soup. It was, is, and always will be the standard. However, this dish plays a close second fiddle to that soup.
My father always used regular brown lentils we usually find here in the States, but I now like to use Le Puy lentils from France, which are smaller and more sturdy. Le Puy lentils take just a bit longer to cook, but they hold together and don’t become mushy. What’s even better, their flavor is a bit more … earthy … than other types of lentils. I don’t know what it is; maybe their shape reminds me more of beans, and that’s why I feel like their flavor is more like that of legumes and less like that of peas. Anyway, I know Le Puy lentils are hard to find, but keep your eyes peeled at places like Whole Foods, Wegmans, and specialty shops. Every once in awhile they turn up to surprise you – and pick them up when you have the chance!
Sadly, my poor photographs don’t do this dish justice, and I apologize for that. However, this recipe had a fantastic depth of flavor; if I didn’t know better, having cooked this myself, I’d have thought these flavors had been melding together for hours instead of half an hour. The red wine certainly helps that, but I really believe it’s the mustard and bay leaf that really give it that slow-cooked feel. I felt like I was in France when I was eating this, and a rush of happy memories flooded back through my mind … and my stomach! This made a great dinner, paired with a light salad, and a great lunch the next day. Serve it hot or serve it warm; either way will let the flavors shine through.
Trust me, even if you have your favorite lentil recipe (as I do!), you’ll want to try this one….
Lentils braised in red wine
- 3 slices bacon, chopped
- 1 Tbsp olive oil, preferably Kalamata (or less oil)
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1 leek, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup Le Puy lentils, picked over for shells or stones
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2/3 cup red wine
Heat a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook down until some fat renders out and the bacon starts to brown. Add in the olive oil, then mix in the carrot and leek. Sprinkle in a dash of salt, keeping in mind the bacon, mustard, and wine will bring saltiness to the dish as well. Cover and cook until the vegetables are beginning to soften, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.
Add the lentils to the pan and stir them around to coat with the oil. Add the mustard and bay leaf, stirring to distribute the mustard. Pour in the water and wine; you may need to add a bit more water so that the lentils are just covered by liquid. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the lentils are just tender. This should take about 25 minutes. Check the seasoning before serving.