I’ve already shared with you my love of beans.
But, believe it or not, there’s one I haven’t tried. The lowly lentil.
Whenever I think of that peculiar pebble, my mind goes directly to Sister Act and the scene (started at 3:23) where Sister Mary Clarence eats with the convent for the first time. A bowl of bland, brown, goop ends up in front of her. She tastes it, hates it, and asks if she’s in a Pritikin order. The Pritikin diet includes lentils.
The truth is that lentils can turn into mud if you over cook them or don’t season them right. I’d assume the cook at the convent in Sister Act commited one of those savory sins.
Lentils get called beans, but some will argue that they’re technically pulses, which are crops harvested only for their dry seeds.
Green, red, brown, black, yellow, orange… Did you know there are that many kinds of lentils? I didn’t.
At Trader Joe’s I found red ones. They’re split to make them cook faster.
The perk to this pulse is their high fiber and protein contents. That’s on top of a slew of minerals and vitamins.
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. Garam masala (a blend of cardamom pods, cinnamom, cumin, cloves and pepper)
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
2 1/2 non sodium chicken broth
1 cup of split red lentils
Cook up the onion in a bit of oil. Add the oil, and when you can smell it (10 seconds), add in the tomatoes and spices. Stir. Add the lentils and broth, stir. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low for 17 minutes. Stir occasionally.
It’s that easy!
Here’s the deal, though. Lentils take a little bit of prep work. They can be dusty, dirty, and include a few rocks. So you should dump them into a strainer (small holes), and rinse. Dig through them to make sure there aren’t any intruders. Then use them.
Salting them off the top is said to make the skins tough, which can lengthen the cooking time. That’s said to be the case with acid (citrus juice, vinegar), too. I’ve seen arguments go either way on this, though. For what it’s worth, I didn’t add salt until they were done cooking.
Just put your chicken breasts in a dish, sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Add a little chicken broth to the perimiter. Put a few slices of lemon on the chicken, toss in some sprigs of thyme, then cover, and bake at 400 for about 30 minutes.
Red lentils are used for dal because they don’t hold their form when cooked. Orange and yellow lentils fall apart, too.
Brown and green lentils will hold their shapes if you don’t over cook them.
Guess what I did with them. I made cookies.
Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit for this one. Alton Brown is the brain behind this crazy creation.
The secret ingredient here is lentil puree. You cook the lentils, then obliterate them into a mixture that looks like it belongs between bricks.
The recipe calls for dried fruit and dried, unsweetened coconut. I used sweetened coconut (easier to find), then reduced the sugar by one ounce. For dried fruit, I turned to the cherry-flavored Craisin. You could add nuts
Tip: Get a spice grinder. I got one for Christmas from my partner in cuisine crime’s kids. It’s really a coffee grinder, but it’s perfect for cloves, all spice, and cumin seeds. I used it for the lentil cookies. It beats buying whole and ground versions of the same spice. You tend to need both. The whole version is good for steeping (ciders and poaching liquids), while the ground version is better for baking and cooking.