I love this cartoon. About 90% of my diet is plant-based but I don’t broadcast the fact (one of the downfalls of being a health coach is that no one wants to have you over for dinner any more). I do love meat and I can eat a lot of it, but I will not eat factory farmed animals. Period. Full stop. End of sentence. There’s always grass-fed ground beef in our freezer so when the once-monthly, “I need a burger now or we’re all dead” comes along, my destined-for-sainthood husband can don his grill-meister guise and save a marriage.
The strongest animals on the planet are vegan (not just gorillas, but hippos, rhinos and giraffes too) and, in actuality, most humans derive their main source of protein from plants. In the western world, we’ve been led to believe that it’s normal to consume meat up to three times a day. It’s cheap and it’s plentiful, but we’re suffering the consequences of a protein source that is high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Most of the time it has been cultivated in abhorrent conditions and injected with substances that will kill the end consumer, but that’s for your conscience to debate. People who are much smarter than I have written well on this topic. (Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman et al). Remember, you are not what you eat. You are what you eat eats.
Let’s go back to the great sources of plant protein which are based in thousands of years of culinary traditions. Think of dhal in India, fuul medames in the Middle East, rice and beans in Mexico, and chickpeas in Spain. Often these have been instinctively paired by traditional cooks with rice or another grain to form the perfect protein. All done without a Master’s in Nutrition Science.
This is the first in a culinary trip through the world of legumes or pulses as they’re called in my native Britain. I eat some form of legume every day, not simply because they’re high in fiber, protein, and phytonutrients, but because I love them! I once dated a Mexican college professor who told me that a bull-fight without sun is like a kiss without a mustache (of course he had one…). I beg to differ, not just because I’d skip the bullfight but because for me a day without beans is, well, like a day without sunshine.
I’m starting with lentils because they lend themselves to a filling and delicious Fall soup, a delightful salad if you’re having an Indian summer and wondrous, hearty stews for colder climes. Lentils are a nutritional and culinary darling. They’re cheap, easier to cook than most legumes because they’re faster and don’t require soaking overnight. They’re high in fiber, folate, minerals and protein. Do we care? Yes, because this means they can help reduce heart disease and balance blood sugar, and because we should all be eating more natural sources of folate, rather than supplements.
You’ll commonly find green and brown lentils at most supermarkets. In more diverse communities, you find red and in the upscale, you’ll find the tiny French Puy lentils (lentilles de Puy) that we’re using for today’s recipe. (You can now grade your neighborhood by the type of lentils sold, imagine that!).
Why lentilles de puy? France’s best save their shape when cooked. Brown and red lentils are great for Indian and Middle Eastern cooking but for a salad like this, you want the lentils to stay firm and keep their shape and not become mushy, so Puy are the best. I will be sharing plenty of Middle Eastern and Indian recipes with you this winter so red and brown lentils will have their day.
Puy lentils are shown here as part of my favorite triumvirate: fleur de sel, walnut oil, and lentils that made it back from France in my suitcase (I apparently don’t live in an upscale neighborhood!). This is a basic French recipe adapted from memory with a bit of Patricia Wells and Susan Loomis thrown in for good measure.
Puy Lentil Salad
- 1 pound Puy lentils
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (duck fat if you have it…)
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons good quality red wine vinegar
- 2/3 cup walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil.
Rinse the lentils and pick them over carefully. Heat the oil in a large heavy casserole, saute the onion until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the lentils and bay leaf and cover them with water (by about 1″). Bring them to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes until the lentils are tender but maintain their shape.
(I have a temperamental stove on which they take about 40 minutes so please adjust cooking time accordingly. Also, add water if you need to during the cooking process, but no more than 1/4 cup at a time as the water should have been absorbed by the time the lentils are cooked). Season the lentils with salt and pepper, and leave to cool.
In a small bowl, mix the mustard, vinegar and some salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in the oil, pouring it in a fine stream. Pour this over the lentils and toss to coat.
Before serving, adjust seasoning to taste. If I’m feeling devilish, I like to stir in some diced goat’s cheese and strips of roasted red pepper. The salad is great served over a bed of greens or stuffed in a pita along with some greens as lunch to-go.
Yield: 6-8 servings