Lentils are a comfort food in my household, and usually prepared as a soup with a tomato sauce. Anytime I make it, it evokes memories of my mother in winter. Greeks particularly love it with feta cheese broken in pieces and added directly into the soup itself. Fresh sourdough bread complements this dish beautifully.
Lentils are legendary for their nutritional value, and there is recent scientific literature to support the benefits of incorporating lentils in one's diet. They are good for your heart, and stabilize sugar levels as well. The lentil plant has its origins in the Near East, and has been part of our human diet for a long time now (I think since the aceramic Neolithic period). In addition, this healthy vegetable has the highest level of protein after soybeans and hemp. High in dietary fiber, vitamin B1, and other minerals, lentils are somewhat ignored in northern European/American diets in my opinion. The people of India adore it, as it is an important staple of their vegetarian diet. Greeks as well. You can find a variety of lentils in most shops (from brown, black, yellow, to red-orange), with/without their skins, split, or whole.
The following recipe is actually a combination of lentils and rice (fakorizo). I came back from the gym last night, and didn't have much in the cupboards, so given I had some lentils and a bit of brown rice left over, I went for it! The following recipe fed three of us (an impromptu visit by our friend Marietta to check Internet in our house, but I conned her into staying for dinner). I prepared a side dish of sautéed carrots with honey and olive oil, along with a cucumber and tomato salad. Somehow, a Montagny Vieilles Vignes White Burgundy (2007) appeared out of nowhere in the fridge, and it accompanied the meal perfectly!
1.5 cups brown lentils, rinsed with cold water twice
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced
1.5 cups brown rice (you can use other types of rice, such as Arborio)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups of chicken stock (made from 1 OXO stock cube)
generous amounts of coarse pepper
1/2 cup chopped dill
The only fresh ingredients you need here are the onion and the dill.
1. Add lentils and bay leaf in a medium size pot with boiling water, and reduce to simmer for about 15 minutes. Lentils should get soft after 15 minutes. Drain and discard bay leaf.
2. About 10 minutes into simmering the lentils, add 1/4 cup olive oil, the cumin, and the onions to large pot, and sauté the onions over low-medium heat until they are soft (careful that they don't get too brown, just a soft golden color is what you are looking for). Probably around 5-6 minutes.
3. Add the stock to the onions, then the drained lentils, the rice, and salt/pepper to taste. Stir and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Reduce to a low heat and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes (since brown rice generally takes longer than white rice). It's important that you stir every few minutes so that the lentils don't get stuck, and if necessary, add a little more stock. In the end, you want the water to be absorbed and to have a consistency of just the rice and lentils.
4. A teaspoon of dill over each portion is the perfect touch. And if you have some feta, even better. Καλή όρεξη!!