Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lentils, Part 2: It’s All About the Sprouts

Yes, I’m still stuck on lentils, and now it’s all about the sprouts.  I’m not sure how I managed to miss the sprouting phase of my development – I recall playing around with sprouts, but was never completely won over by the idea.  

Of course, sporadically I’ll pick up a carton or a handful of alfalfa or radish sprouts and enjoy them in sandwiches or scattered in salads and move on.   Naturally, bean sprouts are pretty essential in Asian dishes, but they tend to simply meet the need and seem starchy and wood-like.

Perhaps it's because I’m so impressed with French le puy lentils that I decided to sprout a few out of curiosity.  I was warned, but failed to heed the advice of beginning with a small quantity.  I started with 1 cup of lentils and within 3 day they had mushroomed into a huge bowlful.  I was happily sharing my magnificent crop with friends! Turns out, they are so enticingly flavorful, crunchy, and satisfying, that I began looking for new ways to incorporate them in my diet.

I’ll repeat again that sprouts are powerful packages of nutrition.  In fact, they are a seed and not a bean, that contains an amazing amount of dietary fiber, vitamin C and B’s, and minerals.  Further, they are high in phosphorous, rich in calcium, potassium, zinc and iron.  Since lentils are over 25% protein, they are often mixed with grains, such as rice, which results in a complete protein dish. 

It may be obvious how to sprout, but since I didn’t have a clue, here’s a handy guide:

1.  Rinse and pick through the lentils, removing any stones or chaff, and make certain they are whole, since splits will not sprout.  Place about ¾ cup in a medium bowl and cover with cool water.  Let soak 8-12 hours, or overnight.  They will quadruple in bulk, so consider what might be used within 7-10 days.

2.  Drain and rinse well to remove acids and toxins and place them in a jar or in a strainer over a bowl.  Cover with light towel to allow for circulation, and store in a cool semi-lit area, such as a cabinet or pantry.  Rinse and drain 2-3 times per day for 3 days or until sprouts form ½” tails or longer. 

3.  Place in indirect sunlight for several hours to allow chlorophyll to form and tails turn green. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One Pot Wonder

I’ve been having a field day since my bulk food store started stocking French le puy lentils.  

 For my money, these green-blue beauties are the quintessential lentil since they hold their shape beautifully and they do not lose their color when cooked.   No, these lentils will not fade quietly into the night ― and their slight pepperiness offers endless possibilities as either a fabulously healthful entrée or an attractive side dish. 

Le puy lentils are versatile enough to either to stand in as a charming base for an entrée such as salmon or duck, or become the focal point of a vegetarian meal.  Salad with lentils can actually make sense (yay!) and become the perfect solution for buffets or picnics―no more dull, unappetizing blobs. 
This past weekend I was in the mood for another of my one-pot wonders.  This time I included lentils, collards and turkey kielbasa, each added to the pot when chopped and ready.  I started with my standard soup pot and added a cup or so of rinsed lentils covered with water, plus half an onion and some celery leaves.  While the lentils simmered I chopped up one bunch of tender collard greens, removing any tough cores, and added them along with 2 strips of chopped bacon, a dash of salt and 2 dried chile peppers.  When it came to a boil, I reduced the heat and covered the pot slightly. 
 In a separate pan I heated a bit of olive oil and sautéed the rest of the onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a bit of coriander, thyme and a pinch of allspice.  When that was aromatic I added one kielbasa cut in half lengthwise and chopped into 2 inch pieces along with a diced (Anaheim) pepper.   This simmered slightly covered, to allow all the flavors to incorporate.

Meanwhile, I chopped up 3 medium carrots and added them to the lentil pot.  When the lentils and collards had cooked about 30 minutes, I added the vegetables and sausage mixture to the lentils, tasted for seasoning, and simmered it all an additional 15-20 minutes.  I was finished and cleaned up within an hour.

Of course, my favorite part of this meal is the eating.  I’ll top the heated lentils with a chopped salad lightly dressed with olive oil and sherry vinegar, and then crumble a bit of bleu cheese over it all.   Wonderful. 


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