Yesterday was Father’s Day, and I admit I was at a loss as to what I should get for my Dad. He’s an avid fisherman, but trying to buy someone a present connected to their passion, if it’s not one that you share, is one of the trickiest shopping trips you can embark on. My brother has gone on numerous fishing expeditions with him, and so has a better sense of which fly might tickle his fancy or what the latest fishing gear is that might not already be in his collection. I tried fly fishing a few times, but found I’m more of a cook than fisherwoman. Plus his preferred choice of catch and release fishing doesn’t bring home much salmon or trout.
While fishing is not where we connect, food is. I love to cook and my Dad and I both love to eat. His repertoire in the kitchen is primarily the grill, his infamous champagne punch, and willingness to help punch down the bread dough. Where he really excels is as a volunteer taste tester. I don’t think I’ve ever had him pass on taking a nibble or slurp or bite of something, “just to make sure it’s good”. Even when he’s not asked. Self sacrificing all the way.
When I was going through my first vegetarian phase I made a dish called Funistrada. It sounded great in the cookbook – noodles with a cream sauce – but as this was the 70s and because vegetarian cuisine wasn’t quite as sophisticated as it’s become this recipe had a serious flaw. The cream sauce was made using all whole wheat flour and no herbs or seasonings, though it may have had some cheese. It was as if you made a vat of paper maché goop and layered it between seven layers of noodles. For some reason Dad hadn’t wandered into the kitchen as I was putting it all together so there was no taste testing that day. Which is too bad because Funistrada is disgusting.
I told everyone to dig in as I brought the salad and bread to the table and Dad happily dug in and kept eating. My brother, who has not always been known for his tender ministrations toward my feelings, took one bite of the stuff and spat it back out announcing loudly that it was so awful it might kill him. I was horrified, but after one spoonful I had to agree. It was inedible. My father looked relieved and wanted to know if this meant he didn’t need to finish it all. He had been ready to sit at our kitchen table and eat this nasty stuff because his daughter had made it. I don’t think I would have made the parental sacrifice myself if faced with a plate of Funistrada. So as an honest taste tester perhaps he’s not so good, but as a Dad he’s great, plus he let us order out for pizza that night.
For many years I baked Dad his presents. Cookies were easy to bake and mail, but when he was diagnosed with diabetes the gift of cookies didn’t seem like such a thoughtful present. He manages his illness really well, but it seems unfair to give someone gift they had to take a pill for. So I’ve made donations of honeybees and goats in his name, which is actually a great thing to do for someone who has enough stuff (and who shouldn’t be eating sugar). Then yesterday I was wishing I could just make him something yummy and healthy. I came up with Lentils of Love.
It’s a dish I made last weekend for Russell’s non-graduation celebration (yes, my youngest is skipping his senior year in high school and instead heading off to Simon’s Rock College this fall). It’s what a good vegetarian/vegan recipe should be. Flavorful, interesting, and edible. I’ve made it on and off for years after I was first introduced to le puy lentils. While some foodies will tell you must use the small green pulses grown in the volcanic soil around Auvergne, France I can tell you the world will not stop spinning because you use green lentils instead. I’m not saying le puys aren’t great, because they are, but rather that the secret to this recipe is a lentil that won’t fall apart and get mushy when you cook it.
The real trick, which Russell’s godfather Rick reminded me of, is to cut the vegetables into teeny, tiny squares, hardly bigger than the cooked lentils themselves. In the past I’d chopped my carrots, celery and onion into small cubes, which was just fine. However, when Rick minced those same three vegetables into a micro mirepoix instead of chopping them I found it elevated the dish to the next level.
Now, as you will probably note this is not something I can send to my Dad in the mail, so the bonus of these Lentils of Love is that I’ll need to take a road trip to see him, and make them for him in person. Maybe he’ll join me in by cooking something on the grill.
Lentils of Love
1 1/4 cup Le Puy or green lentils
2 1/2 cups water
1 small bay leaf (or half of a large one)
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 carrots, peeled and cut into micro squares (about a cup)
3 celery ribs, trimmed and cut into micro squares (about a cup)
1/2 red onion, peeled and cut into micro squares (about 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
dash or two of cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Bring the lentils, bay leaf, thyme and water to a boil, then cover and cook until the lentils are they are soft, but not mushy about 35-43 minutes. There should be almost no liquid left, but keep an eye on things so you don’t simmer them dry. If there is any liquid left drain it then cool the lentils a bit.
While the lentils are cooking cut up your mirepoix. Place in a large bowl and add the slightly cooled lentils (you want them to be warm enough to suck up the oil and vinegar, but not so hot they cook the vegetables), olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. If you need a brighter note to this salad add a few dashes of cider vinegar.
You’ll want to retaste this when the lentils have cooled down to see if you need to tweak the oil/vinegar/salt/pepper ratios. I will often double or triple this recipe thinking there will be tons left over, but no mater how much I make it all seems to disappear in a day or two. Just letting you know.
You could also top this with some chopped walnuts or pecans. Or a crumble of cheese. There is a myriad of possibilities.
Here’s another variation on this recipe (so many tweaks are possible) from Heidi Swanson who tweaked one of Deborah Madison’s recipes.