I've always been a bit leery of lentils. My family was not a legume-friendly one; aside from my mother's fantabulous baked beans (the woman was born in Boston, after all), I can't recall seeing beans on the table at all during my childhood. (This excludes string beans and haricots verts, both of which appeared with wonderful and delicious frequency.)
But in the last few years, I've become more bean-friendly. Until the last few months, my forays into beantown have been limited to the restaurant-and-friends'-houses sphere, but I've been branching out. You no doubt recall the chickpea stew I made approximately eight zillion times last winter and spring. My most recent adventure has been lentils.
It all started at Ouest (as many things do), where I had a dish served atop a bed of mustardy lentils. They were marvelous - firm, rich, a bit toothy. Nothing like the mushy mess I have to admit I'd been expecting. And I resolved then and there to eat more of them.
I've been hoarding lentil recipes for ages, but until Fairway opened in the neighborhood a few weeks ago, I had no luck finding the green, French variety everyone in the know had told me to use. Fancy Gallic lentils in hand, I finally got down to business. I set about making a warm lentil salad with bacon, sherry vinegar and leeks. Some of my favorite things.
The whole thing took about 30 minutes start to finish, and was well worth the effort. I worked off of this recipe, adding a bit of the spinach to the cooking vegetables and a bit more vinegar than called for. I was liberal with the salt and pepper (as one must be when dealing with legumes) and pondered - but ultimately rejected - the notion of adding a bit of mustard to the pan. (I think you should totally try it.)
I have deemed lentils a success. Good thing I have the better part of a sack of them in the pantry.
Warm Lentil Salad with Bacon and an Egg
Adapted from Gourmet
1/3 cup French green lentils
3 oz. slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch batons
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped*
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 tbs. sherry vinegar
1 tbs. finely chopped thyme
1 cup baby spinach
2 large eggs
Kosher salt and finely ground black pepper, to taste
Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover with two inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer the lentils, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Drain in a mesh sieve and set aside.
Meanwhile, place a large skillet (I used my 10-incher) over high heat until pretty darn hot. Add the bacon, then reduce heat to medium-high. Cook bacon until most of the fat is rendered and the batons are brown but still a bit meaty. Remove to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but a fine coating of the bacon fat and turn the heat to medium.
Add the leeks, carrots and celery to the pan and salt and pepper them a bit. Cook them until they're tender but not yet brown. Add the vinegar and boil until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the thyme and baby spinach and cook for a minute or two, then stir the bacon back in. Remove from the heat, salt and pepper to taste, and set aside - covered to keep warm - while you prepare the eggs.
In a small skillet, fry the eggs one at a time over gentle heat, until the whites are set but the yolks are still a bit runny. (If salmonella is an issue in your area, use pasteurized eggs or cook until yolks are firm.) Divide the salad between two plates, then top with the eggs. Add another sprinkle of salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Salad, without eggs, keeps nicely in the fridge for a couple of days. Bring to room temperature or warm gently in a skillet before serving.
*To clean the leek, first chop it, then placed the chopped leek into a bowl filled with cold water. Agitate a bit with your hand and let sit for several minutes. The dirt and grit will fall away. Remove the leeks from the bowl with your hand or a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to dry.