My Flexible Friends ~ cooking with lentils

Do you remember an advert by a certain credit card? They referred to the card as a flexible friend. A misnomer if ever there was!

My flexible friends in the kitchen are lentils. Cheap, tasty and nutritious. They are packed with protein and in my mind an often forgotten meal. People tend to think of them as tiresome as they need soaking, tasteless, dull and yes even gas producers 🙂 Let’s right a few of those wrongs.

There are a myriad of lentils out there but for todays meal I’m going to cook with Lentilles Du Puy, or if you can’t get those (and they are a bit more expensive) Green lentils.  Besides as I’m back in France it would be rude not to start with my hosts own lentils.These lentils need no soaking, are quick to cook and very adaptable.

First up a bit of background – Lentilles du Puy / le Puy lentils – “Cultivated for over 2000 years in the region of Le Puy en Velay, the “green lentils” are still produced using no chemical fertilizers. The “AOC (appellation d’origine controlée) production area covers 88 communes in the Haute Loire department, in the Auvergne region.”

Auvergne Vegetable Garden 2011 – what a view!

I said they are adaptable, they are both a winter and summer food for us. For winter warmers we use them as alternatives to meat in Lasagna,  Moussaka, Shepherds Pie or should that be Cottage Pie, maybe I should settle on Gardeners’ Pie to name a few, and yes I need to get round to writing these recipe up. For summer or lighter meals they are easily transformed into salads, with a vinaigrette or fresh herbs, side dishes paired with some baked or grilled fish like Salmon, or as a main course topped with roasted vegetables and some crumbled feta cheese. You see they are tasty too.

Elizabeth David in her classic 1960’s book French Provincial Cooking, cooks up a parsley butter version. But I don’t have my book with me (why did I take it home and then leave it there?), and I’m longing for that dish but can’t remember exactly how to make it. So off to the internet I trawl, and then back round I come to a cookbook that I do have with me Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg . He’s obviously a fan, and gives readers a choice of recipes for “Dressed Lentils”. And so I took inspiration, and the quantities from his recipe and made you a my own version.

Promenade Parsley Lentils

For 2 large servings –

To cook the lentils you will need ~

  • 125g puy or green lentils
  • Water or vegetable stock for cooking
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and bashed
  • A handful of parsley stalks

Cooking Instructions ~

  • Wash and rinse the lentils, place them in a large pan and cover them with water. Bring them to the boil and cook for a minute or two.
  • Then drain the lentils and put them back into the pan with some fresh water, enough to cover them by about an inch.

Why are we doing this? Apparently it stops the “joys” of excessive gas.

  • Now add the garlic cloves, parsley stalks and a bit of vegetable stock if using (alternatively add a bay leaf, half a carrot, half an onion and half a stalk of celery). bring to the boil and then gently simmer for approx 20 to 30 minutes.
  • The lentils are cooked when they are soft to the touch and can be squidged between your fingers.
  • Drain them and remove the garlic cloves, parsley stalks (and veggies if you used them)

Dressing your lentils ~

  • Finely chop the garlic cloves up, along with a shallot and gently saute them in some olive oil and butter until they are translucent and cooked.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley and stir in the lentils. Grind some black pepper and sprinkle a bit of sea salt onto the mixture and cook on a gentle heat for a few more minutes.
  • Turn the heat off and cover the pan, and leave it for 5 minutes so the flavours are absorbed.

Alternatively ~

  • Dress the cooked lentils with a squeeze of lemon, a dash of olive oil and slat and pepper
  • Or as HFW does make a vinaigrette of olive oil, cider vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper.

You can eat them hot, warm or cold. I told you they were adaptable. I made enough so that I could have some leftovers for lunch the next day and ate them with a Toulouse sausage, sliced up, all mixed in with a leafy green salad.

Gardening Notes ~

I’ve fancied growing some lentils for years. I have finally got myself some to grow, I just need a bit of extra land to try them out. Well if they grow in the Auvergne at altitude they should grow OK in the South East. I bought them from Seeds Of Italy. I realise I probably need the equivalent of a field to grow enough for a few meals, but as a gardener I want to grow them because I can! I also realise they aren’t Puy, as I’m not in the Auvergne, but these ones are Italian. Either way I’m sure they will be tasty and fun to grow.

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40 comments

  • I have never liked lentils, but I have never tried Lentilles du Puy. Perhaps their chemical-free raising gives them something special. I’m supposed to go to France in June — if I get there, I’ll look for them/

  • Love lentils… slowly converting my husband into a lentil ‘liker.’ Some meals are harder than others to convince of their worthiness as good wholesome food! ~ Lynda

      • I believe it has to do with your tongue. Some people are what they call “supertasters” and can really catch the complexity of the foods they eat. Some, for that very same reason have over developed bitter responses and/or can’t eat cilantro due to soapy flavor). Here is an interesting article that can help you find out if you are one! 😉

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2880471.stm

        • Thanks for the link, an interesting read. I might have to see if I could repeat the test on myself 🙂 It must be horrid not being able to eat certain foods because they don’t taste good, I’m not sure how I would survive without fresh corriander!

    • I guess I’m just curious to see how they grow and what they look like, I’ll see if I can’t sneak some in somewhere this year. And now I want to know what the “local” ones are like, and recipes?!

  • These recipes sound delicious! I was in an import store last Saturday and saw green lentils but didn’t buy them because I’ve got 2 quarts of lentil soup in my freezer. Now, however, after seeing your recipes, I wish I’d bought them. Well, this won’t happen again!

    • Thank you John, I’m sure the Italians have plenty of recipes with lentils, or maybe it depends on the regions? And now of course I want to know your lentil soup recipe 🙂

  • One thing I always bring home from France! We can get a Puy-type grown in the states, but they don’t have that delightful ‘flinty’ flavor…
    I can’t cook them without a bay leaf, though…they just don’t taste right without it!

  • I can’t believe that this is the third time today that a food blogger has made reference to River Cottage. I love lentils…any way they are prepared. I have a large bag of red lentils which I have never used before. It will be fun experimenting with them.

    • Hi Karen, hopefully that is a matter of “great minds think alike”, have you seen his books or TV programmes? I never quite know what programmes (chefs etc) travel well. And I’m pleased you like the lentils. and now I’m wondering if your red lentils are whole or split, and how you prepare them? 🙂

      • Claire, I haven’t see his books or programs but he certainly seems to be popular on your side of the pond. My red lentils are tiny and split so I’m sure that they will be very delicate. I don’t know how I’m going to prepare them yet. I’ll let you know. I’m interested in seeing what the difference in taste will be.

    • Your version sounds good, and the beef stock would certainly give the lentils some oomph. I often add a drop of red wine and a bay leaf which also add flavour and oomph

  • Love lentils, all kinds. I can’t believe you actually grew some. I’ve never gotten past buying them in a bag!

    • I haven’t tried growing them yet, I’m hoping to do so this year. I’m curious to see ho wthey grow and what they look like. More for fun than anything else 🙂

  • After reading your post today, there’s just no more excuses for my boring salads! I love this recipe and I love that you plop lentils into all kinds of dishes! I’ve seen some dried at our local natural food store so I’m going to see if they carry this type!

    • I use them as a substitute for minced meat in lasagnes and chillies and they work very well, these green lentils have a bit of substance to them. Hope you lik ethem, I think they are a great way of having protein but without all the fats

  • Sadly, the only way I like my lentils is in soup 🙂 thanks for the lesson about puy lentils, I learnt something new.

    • That’s great Kathryn, I hope you do try them again, so easy and flexible, and full of goodness. I find it easier to justify another piece of chocolate if I’ve eaten a good meal 🙂

  • I love lentils. had some for supper tonight with mushrooms, celery and red pepper. Threw in a handful of brown rice and yum. Never thought about growing them. hmm…………

  • I’m way behind on my emails, so just read your lentil post today–I think it’s funny that we both happened to write posts two days apart extolling the virtues of lentils. I am with you–these are such a kitchen mainstay and an absolute must-have in the pantry. A quick protein source if there ever was one since you don’t have to soak them. And high-fiber, low-fat, and high nutrient (yes, the dietitian voice coming out here). Thanks for some new ideas.

    • And I’d had your dish round at friends a few weeks ago, it was a perfect combination. And you are so right about lentils being good for us on lots of levels, we should all eat more. Hope you have a great week!

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