Europe / Main Dishes / Snapshots

A Love Affair with Lentils

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In France I have consumed and made many things, though it has barely been a fortnight. I’ve had slowly roasted duck, sushi, black radish, endives, and a fair amount of prosciutto. But if you asked me what single food has made the biggest impression on me so far, I would tell you without a single missed heart palpation:

Lentils.

Yes, the mushy, gray-green, bland legume that you hardly ever see on menus in the States. Well, buckle up buttercup, because lentils are different in France, and I adore them.The Great Lentil Conversion actually began back in Quebec City, where my host mother made a big pot of lentil soup as an appetizer one night, resplendent with good olive oil, roasted red peppers, and a strong chicken stock. Hmm, I thought to myself. Not so bad. Interesting texture, great at soaking up flavor.

Next stop on the Lentil Adventure was a really beautiful meal I had at the Montreal Airport. There was a three hour layover and airplane food to look forward to, so I splurged alongside another girl on my program. We went into a really nice restaurant and ordered three appetizers (always a good way to keep the bill down): mac & cheese for her, a warm beet salad with goat’s cheese for me, and a shared plate of roasted pork belly over mustard-y lentils. The pork belly won, hands down. But I also surprised myself by utterly demolishing the bed of lentils underneath the pork-y goodness. They were a perfect way to cut the richness of the fatty pork belly.

And then came my first meal in France, which occurred at the cutest, most ludicrously charming hotel I’ve ever stayed in, right in the center of Rouen. I ordered a flaky local white fish, wrapped in a thin slice of ham, and perched atop – you guessed it – lentils. I ate EVERYTHING. Seeing a pattern? Yeah, me too.

It follows that one of the first meals I cooked for my host family in Rouen (yes, I hit the jackpot; hey let me cook!) was a big pot of lentils and pork sausage. Never mind it was my first time cooking the dish; lentils are easy, and filling, and take on the flavor of whatever you cook them with. In my case, that was some home-made chicken stock, caramelized onions, parsnips, and a lot of garlic. And the sausages, obviously. Musn’t forget the sausages. The pot lasted for days. It was great for that first dinner, but also for a satisfying lunch later in the week, accompanied by a poached egg and some braised endives.

However, to be honest, there’s a bit more to this story than discovering a liking of a new food. You see…lentils are a LEGUME. And I, ah, usually don’t eat legumes. Like ever. This is a tenet of the Paleo Diet, which is something I’ve been staunchly following since June of 2012. Er, until now, I suppose.

I made a big decision about my diet before leaving for my months abroad; namely, that I was going to stick to no wheat, and avoid processed foods whenever possible (which I’m glad to say has been largely successful). But everything else was up for grabs, because I knew I wouldn’t always be in control of my food situation. And voila, in the last month, I’ve had cheese, wine, rice, lentils, sugar…all in moderation, but still.

And these lentils? They weren’t served to me, they weren’t a gift. I COOKED THEM. And enjoyed them too.

And…I’m still alive, still standing. I feel good. I haven’t gained or lost massive amounts of weight, and my hair is still shiny. I’d say I’m in no danger of dropping dead. If anything, I feel better after I eat them.

So…lentils for life?

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Lentils and Sausage

Ingredients:

  • 4 uncooked sausages (I’ve used both pork and lamb)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, finely diced
  • 3 parsnips, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons of Herbs de Provence (or thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc.)
  • 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1b of lentils (or one 500g bag)
  • 6 cups chicken stock

Steps:

1. Cook the sausages in the bottom of a soup pot on medium-high heat, until mostly cooked through. Remove and set aside.

2. Add some butter or lard to the pot, and then add all your diced up veggies, herbs, and salt & pepper. Cook for 7-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened and melt-y.

3. Add the lentils and stock. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, mostly covered, for 35 minutes. If the lentils look dry, add an extra cup of water or stock. But don’t worry too much, the lentils are meant to soak up the liquid!

4. Dice up your now cooled down sausage, and throw in into the pot. Allow the lentils to cook for another 10 minutes.

5. Serve on a cold and drafty night (I had mine with crispy roasted brussels sprouts). Eat a big bowl. Be comforted.

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One thought on “A Love Affair with Lentils

  1. Amy, this is the first time that lentils have been explained to me. I have never had them, but you make them sound delicious. You are so fortunate: shopping at farmer’s markets, cooking, and also having some control over what you eat. Lovely! And cooking for your family, which is a treat for them. Nice. I am so happy for you.
    Joan

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