spices to warm the soul

This goes out to all my veggies and vegans! Although I made this with a combination poultry stock, it can absolutely be made without and be just as delicious.

So here's what I think - lentils are totally underrated.  They are ridiculously good for you, come in many a color, shape, and size, and can totally be a chameleon when it comes to cuisine.  Hot, cold, soup, side, salad, Indian, French, you name it! Quite versatile if I don't say so myself! I haven't had lentils in a while, so I was feeling in the mood - I also think my recent carnivorous overload may have amplified a craving as well for a more vegetarian option - even vegan if you so desire!  The one thing I love about vegetarian dishes is that you really let flavors, spices and herbs shine, as opposed to letting a main animal protein steal the show - and you have to be creative with plating! No shrimp heads, drumsticks, or shanks here.  And for me, that's more of a challenge.  So be it! This dish is absolutely comforting and satisfying, whole-heartedly filling and delicious. Best yet, it can be made vegan, tricking even the most anti-vegan of them all! Granted, I ended up making mine with chicken/turkey stock, but I just got excited. Enjoy!

Warm Moroccan-Spiced Lentil Salad 
1 cup lentils (I used 1/2 black beluga and 1/2 French green)
2 1/2 cups water, vegetable, turkey, or chicken stock
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1/2 t cinnamon
1 T fresh ginger, sliced
1 bay leaf
1/2 t kosher salt
Fresh ground white or black pepper
1/4-1/2 cup minced carrot
1/4 cup minced parsley, plus more for garnish
1/2 preserved lemon rind, minced
½ c blanched almonds

Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium to medium-low heat. Once the pan is heated, swirl in the olive oil.  Throw in (gently!) the minced onions and garlic, and cook for a few minutes, allowing both to sweat - but not caramelize or burn!  Once the onions are soft and translucent, add in the spiced, stirring to coat. Cook this for about a minute, stirring constantly - at this point you will have an AMAZING aroma in your kitchen! Add the lentils, and stir until all components are sufficiently mixed. 
I can't beleive it's not butter! Really though, it's ginger
perfectly coated with the spice trifecta (at least for this dish!)
Pour in the water/stock, bay leaf, and ginger slices and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20-25 minutes until the lentils are just al dente.  (PS: speaking of ginger - if you buy a giant chunk of a root and aren't using it all, you can place it in a ziploc bag and keep it in the freezer. It's just as good as new when you use it, AND a heck of a lot easier to slice and dice!) Start tasting around the 20-minute mark - if they reach your desired consistency and still have some liquid left, turn up the heat, stir constantly, and let it reduce down.  If the lentils aren't cooked through enough, continue cooking, adding more water or stock if necessary.  You may notice my little packets of turkey and chicken stock above - would I liked to have used my own stock? But of course! I still do have to make the chicken stock from the other day's delicious roasted chicken, but of course I haven't found the four hours to make that happen! These are the next best thing - from a fairly common "trading post" of a store brought to you from California.  They are essentially condensed packets of stock that you add to one cup of warm water, and you have a pretty delicious, simple, immediate stock.  And it's pretty convenient that they have turkey as well!! One thousand times better than bouillon cubes I think.

While the lentils are cooking, preheat the oven to 350F.  Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.  Once they’re through, allow the almonds to cool and roughly chop them – either by hand, or by pulsing them in a food processor.  You can also start mincing the carrots, parsley, and preserved lemon.  If you don't have preserved lemon, you can use a couple tablespoons of lemon zest, and a bit of lemon juice.  It'll be a bit more acidic, but still good!   

If you're feeling ambitious, you can go for a brunoise cut on your carrots - using baby carrots makes this task a lot easier since they are already fairly uniform in size.  Either way, it's not necessary, and you can just go for a rough chop all around.

See that steam rising above? It gives of the most amazing aroma!
When the lentils are done, remove the bay leaf and ginger slices (and eat them because they are delicious!) and transfer to a large mixing bowl.  To this, add the minced carrot, parsley, preserved lemon peel, salt, and a couple grindings of pepper.  Thoroughly mix and taste for seasoning.  At this point, you can add some juice from the preserved lemon pulp, or just squeeze in some fresh lemon juice. Stir like crazy, plate, and enjoy!

Seriously, lentils can take on any form – and they are delicious with this combination of flavors! Allowing the spices to toast just a tad before adding and cooking the lentils really release the flavors and ‘warm’ them up even more than they generally are – and none of the spices overpower the other (which can happen with these three, since they really are intense!).  The fresh carrots, parsley, and lemon help brighten up the dish while the toasted almonds give it a nice crunch.  The greatest thing about this dish is that you can eat it hot, room temperature, or cold – perfect for leftovers!  Next time I make this, I think I'll use a wider assortment of lentils - just to play with color! And this is for you vegetarians and vegans out there - just go for it with either water or vegetable stock, and it will be JUST as good!


Belinda @zomppa said…
Gorgeous presentation! Couldn't agree with you more about lentils - love them and these flavors work perfectly.
I'm glad someone enjoys lentils as much as I do! The flavors really are fantastic - even just the spice component of it. After cooking JUST the lentils, it took every ounce of effort within myself not to gobble them all up before completing the dish!
Alli Shircliff said…
What an artistic way to make lentils...this is absolutely beautiful!
Seduction Meals said…
gorgeous! I look forward to trying this recipe

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