I know I've been harping on the weather a bit lately, but ... I'm optimistic this will be my last real wintry recipe. I am so ready for artichokes, spring peas, and ramps, but until it gets a little warmer outside I'm braising. Lentils.
Braising is one of my favorite words in the culinary vocabulary. I love everything about it. I love what it stands for, I love to braise foods, and I love to eat braised foods. It's one of the laziest methods of cooking, and yet produces some of the most flavorful results.
When you hear the word braise, the first thing that might come to mind is meat. But not here, not today. Today we're braising lentils. Because braised lentils are delicious. They get the same amount of love and red wine that anything else that is braised would get. With a slightly healthier result.
I was inspired to braise lentils after reading Melissa's Clark recipe for braised beans in dining section of the New York Times. It sounded like such a warm, hearty, good wintry dish, and when I made her braised beans and they definitely hit all of those notes. Then I tried a version with black lentils that were just as satisfying, and a little easier to prepare in a pinch since black lentils do not need to be soaked.
To make this a complete meal that would satisfy the gamut from vegans to carnivores, they needed a little something more. A dense pieces of grilled polenta to soak up all the delicious braising juices does the trick. Some kale or spinach as the base adds some bite and some green. I cannot think of a more satisfying and complete dinner for a chilly evening.
braised lentils over grilled polenta
for the polenta:
2 cups of polenta
6 cups of water
1 teaspoon of salt
for the lentils:
a few tablespoons of olive oil
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of black lentils, rinsed
3-4 cups (plus you might need another cup or two) of homemade vegetable broth
(optional - you may want to add a bay leaf, or a sprig of rosemary, depending on how flavorful your broth is)
2 cups of a good, drinkable, dry red wine (a cabernet works well)
2-4 teaspoons of salt (to taste)
optional to serve: I like to serve this over a bed of spinach (raw or cooked), or some kale
Start by making the polenta
- Place the water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add the in the polenta, slowly, whisking constantly to keep the polenta from getting lumpy. Once all of the polenta has been added, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and add the salt and pepper.
- Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the polenta is nice and thick and it is pulling away from the sides.
- Transfer the polenta to a glass, rectangular dish (preferably one that is 9x12"), and then place it in the fridge until it sets, for a minimum of 30 minutes. You can also do this part a day or so in advance.
Then, while the polenta is setting, braise the lentils
- In a large, deep sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic, and sauté everything for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender (but not too soft, because they are going to cook some more in the broth).
- Then, add in the lentils and stir to coat the lentils with the vegetables. Add enough broth to cover the lentils and vegetables. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. If the broth evaporates, and it becomes dry, add in a little more broth. I find it usually needs about another cup or so more because I like there to be a little liquid left over.
- Once the lentil are tender, this is when you want to add the salt + pepper. Salt may effect the cooking of the lentils, so it is best to add it at the end.
While the lentils are braising, reduce the wine
- In a small sauce pan, bring the wine to a boil, reduce then reduce to a simmer. Allow the red wine to cook down by about 2/3 (being careful to watch it, because it reduces quickly once it gets half way reduced). You want a syrup-like consistency.
- Once you have this consistency, add the reduced wine to the lentils and continue to braise the lentils (on very low heat) for another 10+ minutes with the wine. You can cook for longer if you want more flavor, just be sure to keep it on very low heat, and continue to add a more stock if it gets too dry.
Grill the polenta (optional step)
- Cut the polenta into 6 square-ish pieces.
- In a grill pan or a cast iron skillet, heat up a couple tablespoons of water oil over medium-high heat. Cook the polenta for about 5-7 minutes on each side, until the edges start to brown. You may have to do three at a time, depending on the size of your pan.
Assemble and serve
- In individual bowls, place the spinach or kale (if using) at the bottom. Place the polenta on top. Spoon the braised lentils and vegetables over the polenta, being sure to get a lot of liquid over the polenta so it will soak it up. Enjoy.