Honey. Sugar. Sweetie. All terms of endearment that many of us toss around without much thought. Just like the empty calories we often find ourselves indulging in each day.
I've been giving the matter some thought. Well, mostly the terms of endearment part. I've come to the conclusion that perhaps, as with eating well - and thoughtfully - we should also use a different sort of endearment entirely.
Why, when it comes to evocations of love or tenderness, must we conjure the names of empty carbohydrates which provide mere bursts of energy followed by the inevitable crash when we can instead pay tribute to that which provides sure sustenance while offering goodness and flexibility?
That is undoubtedly what the humble legume is about. It's also precisely what many of us strive for in a healthy relationship.
Try it out: "My little lentil." "My dear chickpea." "Ooh la la, my pinto bean."
Cute, certainly. Adorable, possibly. Adoring, no doubt.
I will admit that the legume has long sustained a reputation just the opposite of sexy. Neither love nor our diets need suffer from stodginess, however.
With this recipe, I hope to change any ideas you may have about legumes being bland or boring. I assure you, when cooked well, lentils in particular have the ability to become so elevated as to enter into the realm of sensuousness, if not sexiness itself.
During the eleven or so years I was a vegetarian then vegan, I relied on the lentil, among other legumes, as a cornerstone of my diet. I loved and cooked with them furiously. But, since moving toward eating as an omnivore three-plus years ago while pregnant with my son, and continuing to do so after his birth, I haven't been eating as many lentils as I probably should.
I haven't forgotten about you, dear lentil. I still hold you close to my heart.
Let's cook up some gorgeous lentils then, shall we?
Here's how I have been making them lately. I start whatever type of sturdy greens I happen to have on hand (swiss chard, beet greens, collards, kale) chopping them up finely. Added in with the lentils and greens are many cloves of peeled garlic, a few whole red chilis and a good amount of chopped shallots.
For the non-vegetarians, small pieces of bacon cooked with the aromatics in the beginning will more than bump up the sexiness quotient. Let this mixture cook very slowly on low heat, for as long as it takes for everything to become rich and at one with each other. This might take an hour, perhaps more. This depends on the type of lentil and whether or not you choose to soak them or not. I advocate fully for soaking any legume.
While you may use any type of lentil of your choosing, the small, dark varieties - du Puy, for instance - work best here as they submit fully while still retaining some shape after the long period on the stove.
Freshly grated nutmeg sprinkled in at the end adds roundness to the already earthy flavors. You may drizzle the dish with a healthy amount of good olive oil. I suggest a spoonful of creme fraiche, which melts into the already giving lentils and greens, providing additional richness.
This dish is simple, warming and one of the best things you'll ever eat. Enjoy it on its own in a good-sized bowl with some bread for a vegetarian meal or as a side with a larger meal, perhaps next to some roasted chicken.
Now who says lentils can't be sexy?
Slow-Cooked Lentils with Greens and Aromatics
1 cup small, dark lentils, such as du Puy
5 or 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 whole dried red chilis
2 large shallots
4 Tablespoons of good-quality olive oil, plus more for finishing the dish
2 bunches sturdy greens such as collards, chard or kale, finely chopped
2-4 ounces bacon (about 2-4 slices bacon cut into small pieces), optional
3 1/2 cups water
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Creme fraiche, optional
Pick over lentils, removing any stones. Add warm water and soak for 8 hours or overnight. (Note: This requires some advanced planning, but the additional step improves digestibility and may shorten cooking time.)
Heat pan over medium-high heat. If using bacon: Add to pan, along with half the olive oil. If not using bacon, add the 4 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Then, add garlic, chilis and shallots. Allow to cook for a minute or two then toss in the greens. Cook until greens are wilted, about 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add drained lentils. Add water and two generous pinches of salt. Turn heat down to very low and allow mixture to cook for an hour or so, until the greens and lentils come together (the lentils should be giving and the liquid mostly gone). The mixture should be thick and not brothy. If it becomes too dry before this happens, add liquid and continue cooking as needed.
When the lentils and greens are done, add nutmeg and give the mixture a good stir. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed.
Spoon into a large dish or individual dishes. Garnish individual servings with a generous pour of olive oil and if desired, a spoonful of creme fraiche.
Adapted from Buvette, by Jody Williams.