Produce is so abundant at this time of year that I’m not usually thinking about recipes like this one: pantry meals that make something out of nothing, so to speak. But that’s exactly what I was thinking about when I got back from Prague in late August, greeted by a fridge that was empty except for a couple carrots and a heart of celery. I was tempted to get takeout, but then I remembered reading Nicholas Day’s ode to Judy Rogers braised lentils, and I thought about how comforting such a meal sounded after a long day of travel.
Fortunately, I’ve almost always got some onions in my kitchen, lentils in my pantry, and bread in my freezer. I decided to give the recipe, which I’ve had bookmarked for ages, a try, and was very happy to serve it over some toast. I’m pretty sure that braised lentils on toast will be keeping me company all through the winter, and whenever I’m short on groceries and in need of something tasty, nourishing, and incredibly easy to make.
I followed Nick’s version of the recipe pretty closely, making a few tweaks: I reduced the oil significantly, and I can’t imagine the lentils suffered too much for it, because they were still stewed and fragrant and flavorful. I used water instead of chicken stock (both are offered as options), and again, I was really happy with the results; I may try the recipe with vegetable stock at some point, but it’s not necessary for good flavor.
The first time I tried the lentils, I served them plain, over toast, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for tart sweetness. The next few times (yep, I’ve already made the recipe a couple times since late August!), I added chopped arugula for a peppery bite, and sometimes I’ve added chopped tomato, too. The recipe is a handy vehicle for using up tomato ends, if you’re used to slicing them for sandwiches or the like.
It’s all good, but if you have nothing else but carrots, onion, and celery at home, there’s no need to embellish the recipe. For all of its simplicity, it holds its own beautifully—a perfect alternative when you’re tired of French lentil soup (though I’m almost never tired of French lentil soup).
Here it is.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus an extra drizzle
- 2 large carrots diced
- 2 stalks celery diced
- 1 medium white or yellow onion diced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/4 cups lentils ideally French or beluga lentils
- 1 or 2 sprigs fresh thyme optional
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 to 2 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
- Toast optional
- Balsamic vinegar optional
Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, and onion, along with a few pinches of salt and a turn or two of pepper. Cook for five minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Add the bay leaf, lentils, thyme (if using), wine, and 2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally and adding the last 1/2 cup water or broth if the lentils get at all dry. The finished lentils should have a little soupiness and extra broth at the bottom of the pot. When the lentils are finished, remove the bay leaf, taste them, and adjust salt and pepper as needed. You can add an extra drizzle of olive oil, if you like.
The lentils can be served with a cooked whole grain, in a bowl, with a fresh salad, or over toast. I like them best drizzled with a syrupy balsamic vinegar.
Leftover lentils will keep for 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge.
The reality is starting to hit me that, if all goes as planned, I’ll be a dietetic intern next year, and the days of being able to cook whenever I want will be suspended. I’ll need to totally re-strategize my home cooking routine, taking batch cooking more seriously than I have since my post-bacc days.
Recipes like this one aren’t just delicious, economical, and healthful: they’re also perfect candidates for making in advance and using up in different ways as a busy week flies by. I wasn’t planning to blog about this one, but I’m so glad I’ve loved it enough to make and make again—and share here.
Happy Thursday, friends. I’ll see you for weekend reading.