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The humble lentil elevated

January 28, 2010
the humble lentil

lentilles du Puy

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.

peppercorns and mustard seed

flavor your lentils

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.

Inside:

  • 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.

mushroom & nut mix

fried with butter

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.

Topping:

  • 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.

ready to shape

almost tarts

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.

shaped

lentil tarts

Arrange on a buttered baking tray in a preheated 350°F oven until the pastry is crispy and lightly golden.

Mushroom, walnut & lentil tart

bake until 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).

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