The humble lentil elevated
Don’t let lentils intimidate you. And don’t write them off as the lame legume, either. These French lentils have more character than brown lentils and provide a more substantial backdrop to stronger flavors: walnuts & fried mushrooms! A sweet little side affair with cheese would probably enliven them even more–chevre, or maybe farmer’s cheese.
This was an all day recipe. I made this recipe instead of making bread on Monday, and I didn’t even have to make the pastry dough (premade, homemade & frozen ahead of time). It’s a simple recipe, though, so don’t let it win the staring contest and force you back into the arms of pastry pizza.
Speaking of pastry dough, though, you’ll either need a double recipe from the above link or your own pastry dough recipe for a two-crust pie.
The path to lovely lentils is paved with spices, fat, & salt. Plain legumes are lame legumes. While bacon would be a traditional fatty & salty way to perk up lentils, there still isn’t a vegetarian bacon that behaves like the pig-produced version. So my fat comes from walnuts and butter, my spices are peppercorn and mustard, and my salt is, well, sea salt.
- 2 Cups dry lentilles du Puy
- 1 Tbs whole black peppercorns
- 1 Tbs whole yellow mustard seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- generous sprinkle of course grain sea salt
Sort & rinse the lentils; place in a large sauce pan with sea salt & bay leaf. Put peppercorns & mustard seeds in a tea or spice strainer or in a twist of cheesecloth and add that to the pan. Cover lentils with at least an inch of water. I had to keep an eye on mine and add water along the way–the lentils soaked up the gleefully and greedily. Bring to a gentle boil. Boil until lentils are soft, 30-45 minutes. They may be somewhat grainy, but should easily cave beneath your teeth. Remove strainer & bay leaf; set lentils aside.
You’ll need four cups of the cooked lentils. I had not quite a cup of leftover lentils, which I’ve frozen for now and will add to a soup or curry sometime.
- 4 Tbs butter or more as needed
- 6 small button mushrooms, diced
- 2 shallots, diced or minced
- 1 Cup crushed/crumbled/chopped walnuts
- 5 sprigs of thyme, stripped
- Salt to taste
Heat butter over medium heat; add mushrooms and fry until brown & soft. Add shallots, fry until translucent. Stir in thyme and walnuts. Salt as needed. Fry until walnuts smell toasty. Remove from heat.
I worked this next step in segments: 1 cup of lentils to 1/4 of the mushroom/nut mixture because I’ve got a small food processor. Adjust to your needs. You may also be able to do this without a food processor blender by cutting the mushrooms, shallots & walnuts very finely before frying and using a potato masher to blend them and the lentils.
Add 1/4 of the mushroom & nut mixture to the food processor; pulse until you have small, even pieces. Add 1 cup of lentils (just scooped, don’t pack the measuring cup) and blend/grind/chop until smooth & mixed. Stop as necessary to scrape down sides and add olive oil or melted butter if the mixture looks & feels too gritty. Turn this portion into a large mixing bowl. Repeat with remaining lentils & mushroom mix.
- 2 Tbs butter (what more butter? Yes, more butter. Yum!)
- 10-12 button mushrooms, sliced
- 2-3 green onions, sliced into ¼” pieces
- salt & pepper to taste
Heat the butter, fry the mushrooms until brown and bathed in butter, salting as necessary.
Now comes the fun part: rolling the dough and filling and shaping the tarts.
Roll out ¼ of the pastry crust into as regular a shape as you can manage. Mine always end up rather rectangular. The dough will be crumbly and reluctant to behave, but resist the urge to shape & smooth the dough with you hands. You want the butter to stay cold so that the crust will be flaky when baked.
Using a butter knife, cut the sheet of dough into quarters. Mound a few spoonfuls of lentil filling into the center. Top with fried mushrooms & green onions. Gather up the edges, puckering and shaping them around the lentils.
Arrange on a buttered baking tray in a preheated 350°F oven until the pastry is crispy and lightly golden.
Serve with lemon yogurt (add a a slice lemon to plain yogurt and allow to sit for several hours or stir in a few tablespoons of lemon juice) and alongside baked beet & beet green salad (recipe to follow).