Monday, February 14, 2011

Lentils braised in red wine

Judy Rodgers describes using a risotto method for lentils in her Zuni Cafe cookbook.  I found the idea intriguing and have been playing with it for over a month now with great success (hey, what recipe from the Zuni cookbook is not a great success?!)  The recipe asks you to add liquid a little at a time, like you would for a risotto.  This stingy with liquid method results in lentils that are nutty and toothsome, coated in a syrupy red wine sauce.  With a bit of practice, I found that I can minimize stirring by adding just the right amount of liquid and even use my oven risotto method eliminating stirring all together.

The recipe starts with cooked mirepoix (mixture of carrots, celery, and onions), but this step is optional.  If I am planning to combine the lentils with caramelized onions later, I skip the mirepoix.  

What I love the most about this method is how forgiving it is.  Cooking lentils in a lot of liquid can yield nice toothsome results as well, but you have to watch your lentils like a hawk.  Overcook them by 2 minutes and they turn to mush.  With the risotto method, the lentils hold their shape and texture a lot longer after they are done.  

Type of lentils
The type of lentils is very important.  You need du Puy (a.k.a. French Green or just French) lentils for this dish.  Black beluga lentils will also work, but avoid brown, yellow, and red lentils since they won't hold their shape as well.

Serves 4 as a side dish

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced small
1 medium carrot, diced small
1 celery stick, diced small
1 1/4 c du Puy lentils, rinsed and drained
1 cup medium body, low tannin red wine (I like to use Cote-du-Rhone or Pinot Noir)
1 1/2 cup water, plus more as needed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1-2 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking aromatic vegetables (this step is optional)
Set a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat.
Add the oil, onions, carrots, and celery.  Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender, but not brown, 10-15 minutes.  

Cooking lentils -- stove top method
Add the lentils, wine, water, thyme, bay leaf and salt (1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher or 1/4 tsp table).  Bring to a simmer and cook stirring occasionally at a gentle simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed.  You don't need to stir much when the liquid is plentiful.  As it gets low, start stirring more often.  Taste the lentils.  If they are not tender enough, add more water 1/2 cup at a time and continue to cook stirring and tasting.  The total cooking time will be around 30 minutes.  

Cooking lentils -- oven method
Preheat the oven to 400F.  
Add the lentils, wine, water, thyme, bay leaf and salt (1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher or 1/4 tsp table).  Bring to a simmer, cover and place in the oven for 30 minutes.  Taste the lentils.  If they are not tender enough, add more water 1/2 cup at a time and continue to cook on the stove top stirring and tasting.  

Seasoning and enriching (both the stove top and oven methods)
When the lentils have the desired texture.  Take them off the heat.  Add more salt as needed and 1-2 Tbsp butter.


Anonymous said...

Hi Helen,

Looks wonderful! Do you find lentils need to be rinsed before use?


Helen said...

Thank you for the rinsing reminder, Alex! Yes, I rinse them since they can be dusty.

Laura said...

Just made this for lunch and it was great! Thanks :)

Lisa@ButteryBooks said...

What a great idea, I will have to try this recipe.

Sammie said...

I don't have much experience working with lentils but these look delicious and I definitely want to try this recipe!

Cytomel said...

Great winter recipe. Thanks.


Dinning Guide said...

These things look gorgeous and I am sure are delicious.

Angelina said...

I actually cooked a very similar lentil recipe last night.

If you don't have access to puy lentils you can actually use green lentils, I find they work just as well.

I will definitely be trying this one in future!

PattyMac said...

hi Helen,

I finally got around to making these last night - they're delicious! This recipe reminds me a lot of a very easy/good Mark Bittman recipe for lamb shanks braised in red wine with lentils. All you have to do is put the shanks, lentils, carrots, celery, etc, in a dutch oven, pour in a bottle of red wine and cook in the oven until the shanks are tender. I recommend it highly!