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Lentils Take the Lead

Lentils are a consistently underrated protein, so we’re featuring a lentil dish again. This time we decided to go with a Spanish flavor profile, because we were thinking about our trip to Barcelona last March. When we brainstormed flavors and ingredients, a short list came together almost immediately.  Simple but powerful savory items –  such as peppers, grilled vegetables, onions, almonds, olives, and garlic –  were reminiscent of the cuisine in Spain. We didn’t have any olives in the test kitchen, so we shrugged and chose to use some yellow rice instead. The goal of this menu was to make the lentils the star, rather than highlight obscure or possibly expensive ingredients.

The week prior, I had made paella so we decided to develop a Spanish-style sofrito as a base for the lentils. Additionally, a lucky find at a discount store had yielded some grapeseed oil the day prior. The oil was used to tie the asparagus together with the lentil salad. We did this in an effort to not only depart from the commonplace olive oil, but to build a nutty base note for the almonds to work with. Deviating again from the Iberian standard, red onion and orange bell peppers were used. The choice was a matter partially of convenience, as we were out of red peppers. However, the red onions happen to be our preference, even though we also routinely stock the yellow variety. In this dish the more colorful onion added visual punch and bigger flavor. Subtlety was not the approach we chose for the centerpiece of the dish, and it payed off in the end.

When the dish was served, it was better than we had hoped, so I ran for the camera. The new oil made the asparagus warmer, richer, and more complex than the same preparation with olive oil.  Furthermore, the slightly unconventional sofrito lifted up the lentil to a new level of savory, nutty, and aromatic delight.

Ingredients

1/2 cup yellow rice (I know – it is a shortcut… but saffron is $15 an oz., and lentils are the star here.)

1/2 cup lentils*

1/4 cup diced canned tomato

1/2 red onion

1/2 orange pepper

2 cloves of garlic

14 small to medium asparagus spears

3 tbsp grapeseed oil (divided)

3 tsp sea salt (divided)

3 tsp black pepper

1/4 cup chopped almonds

2 cups chicken stock (divided)

Method

Begin cooking the rice in chicken stock (set aside when done.) Add grapeseed oil to a medium pan. Julienne the orange pepper and onion. Coarse chop the garlic. Chop the almonds and set them aside.

Heat the pan to medium and add the garlic, orange pepper, and onion. When they start to brown, remove them and reserve the oil in the pan. Add the tomato to the pan and salt. Reduce the liquid by about 1/3. Add the lentils and remaining stock and cook for 30-35 minutes.

While you wait, clean the asparagus and toss with grapeseed oi,l sea salt, and cracked pepper. Heat the oven to 400 degrees and place the asparagus in while it heats. Cook the asparagus for 10 minutes or until a fork will slide into them easily and remove.

When the lentils have 5 minutes left, turn on the oven’s broiler to High. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic back into the pan, and do not toss yet. Broil the asparagus until they start to develop color and remove them. Add a spoonful of grapeseed oil and the chopped almonds to the lentils, toss, and serve.

As always, enjoy this in good health. For pairing, we recommend a glass of Cava or a young semi-dry to fruity Rioja.

photo credit to luke.nicholas at Picasa

photo credit to luke.nicholas at Picasa

While working on a citrus-based marinade in the test kitchen last week, we accidentally made something so unbelievably thick and spicy that it couldn’t be called a marinade, but instead had to be named a hot sauce. The accidental dish was based primarily on thick pulpy orange juice, orange blossom honey, and my favorite pepper, the habanero. The habanero tips the scales between 100,000 and 350,000 Scoville units, so for those of you who can’t stomach Tabasco sauce (topping out at 5,000 SCU, max) it might be time to pack up and go home. This fiery chili, for those with the properly-suited palate, has a wonderfully fruity citrus flavor that absolutely sings in the presence of sweeter fruit-based flavors such as oranges or  honey.

Once we decided to develop a hot sauce, there were several things we needed to consider. Color, flavor, heat, and geschtalt are all crucial to concocting the perfect sauce. We proposed early on to avoid the use of vinegar in all of our sauces, as it is a poor excuse for an ingredient in hot sauces that is used more often to dilute than to flavor. Heat was an easy feat to accomplish – we just played with the number of habaneros and the use or exclusion of the seeds and veins (the spiciest part of a pepper). The orange juice , honey, and our ubiquitous garlic did the heavy lifting in the flavor department. Color was a bit of a trick, because at the Garlic Press, we don’t use food additives like coloring or dyes. The milky yellow that resulted from the blending of garlic and orange juice just didn’t cut it aesthetically-speaking, so we had to root around for something colorful, tasty, and subtly flavored. Ultimately, a container of paprika and a bag of organic baby carrots came to the rescue. The result was a pleasantly orange sauce that danced spicy-hot circles of fire around our mouths.

Ingredients:

2 habanero peppers, whole

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup Orange Blossom honey

3 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup carrot, chopped

2 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. sea salt

Process

Combine all of the  ingredients in the blender and pulse until you have a thick but pourable consistancy. Use with caution.

Wet Ingredients

2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil

Dry Ingredients

1/4 cup white rice
1/4 cup lentils
2 cups veggie stock
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup chopped carrot
1/8 sliced red onion

handful green onion (finely chopped)
Gouda

Spices

1 tsp. paprika
cayenne
oregano
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper

Process

Combine the wet ingredients and a pinch of sea salt in a medium sauce pan and heat to medium. Once the honey dissolves add the red onion, garlic, and carrot.  Bring the soup to a a slow rolling boil for 2-3 minutes, and add the rest of the spices. I would take it easy on the oregano, more than a dash or two will over accentuate the lemon. 1 tsp. of paprika will add color and a smokey taste that pairs well with the Gouda used to finish the soup. As for the cayenne, use your own discretion, I prefer a lot, but start slow or you’ll ruin your whole meal. A few more minutes will give the onion and carrot some time to soften and release their flavor into the soup. At this point it is time to add the lentils and rice. Most white rice has about the same cook time as lentils, which is one reason why I don’t use brown rice. Simmer on med-low for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked.  When you are ready to serve the soup add the green onions and grated Gouda to each bowl and serve.

Spicy lentil soup is a great 3 season lunch or dinner. The quick prep time, under 30 minutes, gives you plenty of extra time to spend with the person you’re cooking for. As an added bonus lentils are full of protein which is great for vegetarians, and for those of use who love meat, this soup pairs well with a nice chorizo sandwhich. If you enjoy wine with lunch, I would reccomend a semi dry tempranillo like La Vendimia. The fruity notes of this variety of wine are excellent with any mild to moderately spicy dish.