Monday, May 25, 2009

Lentils for Lunch (or Possibly for Dinner)

Here is a recipe. Finally.

This recipe confronts the problem of lunch. Dinners are easy. There are a million things to have for dinner, but lunch is a different matter, especially if you want to eat an economical and healthy lunch. Usually, we eat leftovers or peanut butter sandwiches. Occasionally, however, there are no leftovers and no makings for sandwiches. On one such lean day I opened my cupboards and spied nothing but a jar of lentils. In a burst of hunger I cooked the lentils, sauteed some celery, carrots, and onion, and stirred it all together with a little extra dose of olive oil. Rowan and I ate it with great satisfaction thirty minutes later, and then continued to eat it for lunch for three consecutive days.

It is hard to be more economical than that. But if you happen to have some brown rice languishing in the fridge (I have really been looking forward to writing about food "languishing"), then you can transform the plain jane lentils into a really wonderful salad--one that I am not ashamed to serve even for dinner with some bread and a glass of wine. The second recipe is from a rice-cooker cookbook by Beth Henderson. She adapted the recipe from her favorite lunch at the Chez Panisse cafe.

A note on lentils:
When I first began cooking lentils, way back in the days of the McKenzie Study Center kitchen, I seemed to inevitably serve lentils in one of two unpleasant forms-overcooked, or undercooked. I have to say that few things can make a gigantic pot of watery, mushy lentils palatable, not even sausage. Or the appetite of a hungry college student. I have since discovered French Green (Puy) lentils. These changed my lentil life, and even though I have come to like other lentils, properly cooked, I truly adore these lentils. They are small and firm and rustic and flavorful. They are also pretty difficult to ruin. I have had the best luck finding them in the bulk section of grocery stores.

Rustic Lentils
Serves 4 (or makes a few good lunches)

1 cup of green lentils
2 or more cups of water (or chicken/vegetable stock)
1 teaspoon salt (less if using stock)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme or rosemary (optional)

Rinse lentils and pick through them. Place the lentils in a medium pot and add the water, salt, garlic and bay leaf. (If I am going to eat these in a simple form, I like to cook them in chicken stock for a little extra flavor.) Bring them to a boil and then reduce the heat, simmering the lentils until they are fully cooked and most of the water is nearly absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Add more water while they are cooking if necessary. Remove from the heat and discard the garlic and the bay leaf.

Now you have a couple of choices. You can eat the lentils straight out of the pot, or you can add some briefly sauteed carrots, celery and onions and drizzle with olive oil. You can also use them in the following recipe.

Lentil and Brown Rice Salad
Adapted from The Ultimate Rice-Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Henderson
Serves 8

1 recipe cooked rustic green lentils
2 cups of room temperature cooked brown rice (she recommends Brown Jasmine and it is delicious)
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/3 cup red onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
3 tablespoons chopped raisins
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
5 ounces of feta cheese

3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Make a quick vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Combine the lentils, rice, green onions, celery, red onion, parsley, raisins and walnuts in a big bowl. Toss with the vinaigrette, using enough to coat the salad lightly. Let stand at room temperature to develop the flavors for up to one hour, or cover and place in the fridge. Serve at room temperature, topped with the feta cheese and accompanied with bread and butter.


  1. Love the tips on using lentils! It'll motivate me to use a sack of them I still have from new leaf! Do you have any good ideas or recipes for using quinoa?

  2. Hey Jess! You know, I love quinoa but haven't been very imaginative with it. I've only used it for a tabbouleh-like salad with tomatoes, zucchini, red peppers, onions of any kind, cilantro, and a vinaigrette of olive oil and white wine vinegar. My friend Sarah makes it into a salad with black beans and cilantro and feta. I just read about cooking it like risotto-quinotto?-at this website, I hope that gives you some inspiration! Oh, and I am still on the lookout for a grinder! Someday! I know you are right about the flour and I crave some of your pumpkin muffins right now!

  3. Hmmm... sorry, Axon, but lentils is one of those items Brian forbids me to cook. Or rather, he tells me he'll just make himself a peanut butter sandwhich, which is almost as crushing.

    Maybe someday you can change his mind about them. I think you're the only one who could.

  4. Sis, both the recipes look excellent, and rather Greek, if I might add. And if I was to be even more opinionated, I would throw in a dash of Balsamic vinegar somewhere along the line in both of them...

  5. Mel-I think he is still probably traumatized by the aforementioned MSC lentils. I don't think I converted anyone to lentils in those days!

    Bro-yep to the balsamic!

  6. I can attest to the second recipe being great for dinner, Zeb has kept asking me to get that recipe from you since you made it a few weeks ago so thanks! I never realized why I like the dishes that I've happened to make with Puy lentils more than with red lentils, know I know, they're probably the ones that are properly cooked.

  7. OK, I made this tonight. DeLISHous (as Ro would say).

  8. Hi Axon, I made the lentil and brown rice salad tonight for company and it was a hit! Thanks for the recipe and the tip on green lentils - our new favorite!