Cooking with lentils: How to use them, elevate them, and keep them interesting | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Cooking with lentils: How to use them, elevate them, and keep them interesting

Shelf-Stable: Investigating the best way to use pantry staples during quarantine

click to enlarge Stuffed pepper soup - PHOTO: SARAH MCALEE
Photo: Sarah McAlee
Stuffed pepper soup
CP illustration: Abbie Adams
The pandemic has changed many aspects of daily life for people, including how and what we eat. While restaurants are still open for take out, we have turned to the contents of our pantries and cupboards asking, “What should I make today?” You might have an entire family to cook three meals for a day. You might be surviving entirely on stress-induced hourly snacks. The kitchen might be an escape, a chance to try out all of those multi-day food projects you’ve been wanting to try; or, it might be a place of dread, the dark corners of your refrigerator and sad, crusty condiment bottles leaving you uninspired. These days, the fewer trips to the grocery store, the better. Which is why Pittsburgh City Paper is investigating the best way to use pantry staples. How to use them, how to elevate them, how to keep them interesting.

click to enlarge Thai curry - PHOTO: SARAH MCALEE
Photo: Sarah McAlee
Thai curry

Lentils have been around forever — they are one of the oldest domesticated crops and have turned up in archaeological digs. Even in ancient times, they had the stigma of being a poor person’s food. They are mainly produced in Canada (who knew!?) and while I was personally introduced to them in Indian cuisine, I think it is fair to say that with the rise of healthy eating and increasing popularity of the legume, lentils have become more loved and appreciated over the past few years.

After making Bon Appetit’s Marinated Lentils with Lemony Broccolini and Feta this week, I posed the question to friends: What’s your favorite use for lentils? The results of the Instagram survey including the following:

• Soups
Baked lentils with cheese from More with Less
Vegetarian chili
Soup with diced carrots, onions and garlic with a homemade crescent roll on the side
Mujadarrah (lentils and rice with fried onions)
Sprouted and put into bread dough
Yellow curry and butternut squash
Budget Bytes crock pot recipe for coconut curry lentils
Vegetarian shepherd’s pie

click to enlarge Bon Appetit’s Marinated Lentils with Lemony Broccolini and Feta - CP PHOTO: ABBIE ADAMS
CP Photo: Abbie Adams
Bon Appetit’s Marinated Lentils with Lemony Broccolini and Feta

I was surprised that no one mentioned lentils in salads, my personal favorite. I was first introduced to lentil salads by former-Pittsburgh food bloggers Paul and Rebecca Shelter Fast of The Hungry Hounds. Their recipe — involving slow cooking lentils with fresh herbs, a zingy vinaigrette, and tons of toppings included roasted squash, pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, and shallots — made me realize that lentils could be super flavorful and last for days while actually getting better over time.

Sarah McAlee of Brothmonger agrees. “My all time favorite recipe that I make all the time and I tell everyone to make is the "just-keeps-getting-better lentil salad" from Bon Appetit. It is AMAZING. Highly, highly recommend.”

McAlee is known for her soups and has featured lentils several times. “I definitely use them a lot in soups. I have used lentils in my vegan stuffed pepper soup, a thai curry, and just a beautiful lentil soup featuring French green lentils, all that I slung via brothmonger. They are great to bulk up a soup, use as a meat substitute, or be the star of the dish. Some other ways that I like to use them is in lentil loaf (which my boyfriend is obsessed with), curry or dal, stuffed peppers, and my absolute favorite way, salads.”

click to enlarge Slow Cooker Lentil Salad with Roasted Squash - PHOTO: THE HUNGRY HOUNDS
Photo: The Hungry Hounds
Slow Cooker Lentil Salad with Roasted Squash

McAlee keeps a variety of lentils on hand including green lentils, French green lentils, and red lentils. “My favorite variety are French green lentils. They are so beautiful, they're almost black. They are small and firm which makes them very resilient and less susceptible to overcooking. Perfect for soup and salad. I find that they tend to be a little more expensive than their brothers and sisters but definitely worth it. I also can't usually find them anywhere other than Whole Foods.”

The trick to preparing good lentils? “... just to pay attention,” says McAlee. “Definitely cook them in heavily salted water at medium to low temperature and just keep checking on them and tasting them for the texture you want whether it be firm for salad or mushier for a curry or dal or stew or loaf or meatball (and on and on).”

Marinated Lentils with Lemony Broccolini and Feta from Bon Appetit
Lentil Cheese Bake from More with Less
Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Lentils from Budget Bytes

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