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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.

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