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Recipes with lentils: 4 where the legume takes center stage

Lentil quinoa Bolognese.

Lentil quinoa Bolognese. Photo Credit: The Washington Post / Deb Lindsey

Lentils are Pompeii old. Ezekiel old. Ancient Sumeria old. Stone Age old. Before there were virtually any other legumes, there were lentils, offering up protein and iron and an earthy, nutty flavor to anyone smart enough to boil some water and cook them.

As a relatively new vegetarian, I've been realizing that lentils can -- nay, should -- be nothing short of a dietary staple. Let's quickly review the reasons: They're nutritious. They're inexpensive. They're quick-cooking (no soaking). But what I'm realizing is that, possibly best of all, they're more versatile than I had ever imagined.

One reason for that versatility is there's not just one lentil. On one end of the spectrum are the split red and yellow lentils, so common in Indian dals, which disintegrate when you cook them. On the other end are small black beluga lentils, so named because they look like beluga caviar, keep their shape and have a slightly firm texture when cooked. Those delicate little French blue-green du Puy lentils similarly hold up well, making them grand for salads warm and cold. In between are the big brown or green lentils, which can go either way, getting soft enough to mash if you want or staying firmer if you stop short. Their heft makes them useful for sauces.

Here are recipes in which the humble lentil takes center stage.



Adapted from "Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite," by Sarah Copeland (Chronicle Books, 2013)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, scrubbed well, then finely chopped

1 cup dried French du Puy lentils

Fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar or apple-cider vinegar

1/4 cup fresh dill, chives, basil, mint or combination, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced or torn into bite-size pieces

Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

2 tablespoons slivered almonds (may substitute pine nuts)

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic, celery and carrot; cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 6 minutes.

2. Add lentils, 1/2 teaspoon of fine salt and just enough water to cover. Increase heat to bring water to boil, then reduce heat so it barely bubbles around the edges; cook until lentils are just soft, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain.

3. While lentils are cooking, combine the mustard, vinegar, herbs, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste in the bowl of a food processor or blender, or in a small mixing bowl. Drizzle in the remaining oil, pulsing or whisking by hand to form a vinaigrette. Taste, and add fine sea salt as needed.

4. Spoon the warm lentils onto plates. Top with the mozzarella, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Scatter the almonds on top, and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.



Adapted from "The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table," by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small white onion, diced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)

1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder

1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed

1 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped (drained, if oil-packed)

3/4 cup roasted salsa of your choice, homemade or store-bought

12 small corn tortillas, flour tortillas or taco shells, warmed

1 cup shredded smoked Cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)

2 cups finely shredded green cabbage

4 large scallions, chopped

Flesh of 1 avocado, sliced or cubed

1/4 cup sour cream

Lime wedges

1. Heat olive oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it shimmers, add onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add cumin, salt, paprika and chili powders; cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

2. Add tomato paste, sesame oil, lentils, water, vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes; increase heat to medium-high to bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat so it is barely bubbling, cover and cook until all of the liquid has been absorbed and lentils are tender but not falling apart, 30 to 40 minutes. (If lentils are dry before they become tender, add water 1/3 cup at a time and continue cooking.)

3. Serve family-style, setting out lentils, salsa, tortillas, cheese, cabbage, scallions, avocado, sour cream and limes in separate bowls and allowing diners to assemble their own tacos. Makes 4 servings.



Adapted from "The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table," by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

For the "caviar":

1/2 cup dried black beluga lentils, rinsed

2 cups water

2 pieces kombu (dried seaweed, about 2 inches by 2 inches)

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 1/2 tablespoons highest-quality extra-virgin olive oil

For the blini:

8 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon water

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 large egg

1 cup whole or low-fat buttermilk

Canola or other vegetable oil, for frying

For assembly:

1/2 cup crème fraîche (may substitute low-fat sour cream or Greek-style yogurt)

Coarse sea salt (optional)

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

1. For the "caviar": Rinse the lentils. Combine them with the water, kombu and salt in a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the mixture is barely bubbling around the edges; cover and cook until the lentils are just tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow the lentils to cool in the liquid.

2. Discard the kombu, then drain the lentils and stir in the olive oil.

3. For the blini: Combine the potatoes, water and butter in a microwave-safe dish; cover and microwave on high for 6 minutes, until the potato is tender. Cool.

4. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together the egg and buttermilk in a small bowl.

5. Run the cooled potato mixture through a ricer into the bowl with the flour mixture. (Or mash very thoroughly with a potato masher or fork.) Whisk the egg-buttermilk mixture into the flour-potato mixture.

6. Pour 1 tablespoon of canola or vegetable oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Once it shimmers, add batter 1 tablespoon at a time to form small pancakes. (You'll be able to fit about 5 blini at a time in a 12-inch skillet.) Cook until bubbles form all over the surface of the blini and they are deeply browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes; carefully flip and cook on the second side, then transfer to a plate. Working in batches, cook the remaining blini, adding oil to the pan between batches if they look dry.

7. To assemble, top each with crème fraîche and a teaspoon of beluga lentils. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt, if desired, and with fresh dill. Makes 24 to 30 blini.



Use this the way you would a meaty Bolognese: over tagliatelle or the pasta of your choice, or in lasagna. Adapted from "The Great Vegan Bean Book," by Kathy Hester (Fair Winds Press, 2013)

1 cup dried lentils (preferably brown or green), rinsed

3 medium carrots, well scrubbed and cut into large chunks

2 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 small onion, chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

28 ounces no-salt-added crushed tomatoes or 3 cups homemade tomato puree

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 small bunch kale, stems removed and discarded, leaves torn into small pieces (about 3 cups)

1/2 cup dried quinoa, rinsed well

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine the lentils, carrots and water in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low; cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, pour the oil into a medium saute pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and stir to coat; cook until translucent, 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper and garlic, stirring to coat; cook until tender, 4 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor.

3. Once the carrots and lentils are cooked, transfer the carrots from the pot to the food processor, along with the tomatoes or tomato puree, oregano, basil, crushed red pepper flakes and kale. Pulse until mostly smooth.

4. Add the quinoa and red wine to the pot of lentils, stirring to incorporate; cover and cook until the quinoa grains start to show their white tails, 6 or 7 minutes.

5. Stir the carrot-kale puree into the lentil-quinoa mixture; cook, covered, over low heat until the sauce melds and heats thoroughly, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings (about 7 cups).

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