Want soup? Yep, pretty simple, pretty common, and pretty likely to be… well, let’s just say «OK».
As it happens, you can do a lot more with lentils than just soup (check out this very nice spinach salad), but this recipe, which I found while surfing Epicurious.com for something different to do with a packet of French green lentils also provided the secret (!) to tasty lentils:
Also, did you know that all lentils are not created equal? Yellow, red, and orange lentils tend to cook up mushy; so do plan on using them when you want soup, but for a salad, or this truly fine cassoulet, you want green or brown lentils.
As usual, I played fast an loose with the original recipe, but this version is made with ingredients you can get easily at your local market (well, except for those French green lentils, you may need to shop for them).
•1 package uncured bacon
•1 bay leaf
•2 onions, 1 whole, 1 diced
•2 whole cloves
•2 cups French green lentils
•2 tbsp olive oil
•3 carrots, diced
•2 celery stalks, diced
•1/8 tsp Cayenne
•Sea salt, pepper
•3 cloves garlic, minced
•2 tsp chopped fresh sage
•2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
•4 cooked linguiça – or other good quality garlic sausage like kielbasa, cut into slices
•2 cups panko crumbs
•1/8 cup olive oil
•1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
•1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
•Cornichons (or, use spicy sweet pickles if these little French beauties are hard to find)
Cover the bacon with 8 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil.
Attach the bay leaf to the onion with the whole cloves and add to the boiling pot.
Remove the bacon to a rack set in a baking pan, toss the onion, and pour the stock through a fine meshed sieve, skimming off any fat on the surface.
The bacon hasn’t given us all it’s goodness just yet. Separate the boiled slices, arrange on the baking rack, and pop into a hot oven for ten or fifteen minutes to crisp. Set aside to cool.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring every now and then. The lentils should be tender, but not mushy (not so much of a problem with the green ones).
Drain the lentils, saving the stock once again, and transfer to a large bowl.
Heat the oven to 375°.
Heat the two tablespoons of olive oil in the emptied Dutch oven and add the minced onion, carrots, celery, 1/8 teaspoon of Cayenne, and a little sea salt and pepper.
Turn the seasoned veggies out on top of the lentils in the bowl, then crumble your nicely crisped and cooled bacon over the top of the veggies and gently toss to blend together.
Here’s where you need to make a choice.
The original recipe called for turning the lentil mixture into a 3-quart baking dish; but I opted to use a slightly smaller paella pan. Everything fit, but I think I mebbe ended up with too thick of a layer of panko crumbs on top. It was still good, mind you; but just because you have all those crumbs, don’t think you have to use ’em.
Arrange the sliced garlic sausage around the pan and gently push into the lentil mixture.
Add enough reserved broth (with water, if needed) just to cover.
Cover tightly with foil and place on a rimmed baking pan in the oven for 45 minutes.
Remove the foil and return to the oven for another ten minutes, just until the crumbs are golden brown.
A note on the cornichons and Dijon:
The original recipe lists these as an optional addition, but I think they made the dish. Use smooth or whole-grained Dijon (Trader Joe’s has a very nice version of each, both at a terrific price); and, as I noted above, if cornichons are as surprisingly difficult to find in your local market as they were in both of mine, a spicy sweet pickle will do nicely as a replacement (I used Famous Dave’s Signature Spicy Chips here).
One. Fine. Batch o’ Lentils.