If you have a little free time, like I did in early January, and search for the source of a quote by the Roman naturalist Pliny, who credits lentils with the “ability to produce temperaments of mildness and moderation in those who consumed them,” you might stumble on “LegumeChef.com la web de las legumbres.” Though the site is in English, Italian, and Spanish, it seems to be supported in this country by the Dry Bean Council. I never thought about a council for dry beans but it sounds good.
In my wandering state, I sidetracked to Catalan pinto beans and a chocolate surprise cake made with green peas and chickpeas. But I was seeking lentils. The Barcelona chef Néstor Luján writes of lentils – “a legume which has played a fundamental part in human food, especially in the West.” He describes the lentil as “the humble, nutritious and much maligned.” He names Egypt as the source of lentils, where it was said “On eating Egyptian lentils, a man becomes happy and amused.”
That seems good place to stop and retreat to an utterly simple recipe from “The Winter Vegetarian” (a cookbook I find more and more intriguing – it’s winter!). Because we’ve had terrific leeks in the CSA, I chose “Lentils and Leeks.” I rinsed and sliced the leeks half-inch thick with just a little of the green as Goldstein recommends, added them to sliced carrots in olive oil and sautéed over medium heat until the vegetables were lightly browned.
Then I added the rest of the ingredients: two and a half cups of water, one cup of green lentils, a tablespoon of tomato paste (I happened to have this open, but if I hadn’t, I think a small can of tomatoes would be fine), a teaspoon of sugar, and salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and simmer for one hour, till lentils are tender and most liquid absorbed. Serve hot.
They really are good hot – comforting – no doubt that helps create the mildness of temperament in the diner on a cold, dark eve. Goldstein’s lentils left us happy and amused, being excellent the first night with leftover New Year black-eyed peas, and then welcome to me for several solo lunchtimes.
No matter their culinary strengths and versatility, lentils aren’t visually delightful – but my Christmas present apron is! And it also makes me happy.