LentilsJune 25, 2007
This one is for ms xeno.
The first few times I went to Paris, it was on business. I would go out to eat, late at night, in a group with my co-workers, who went where our local contacts told us to go: the well-known old-fashioned brasseries with Art Nouveau glasswork and boyish waiters dashing to and fro with huge platters of seafood. The whole experience was superb, and I was entranced, ravished. There are few things better than a couple of dozen French oysters (fines de claire for my taste) accompanied by sauce mignonette, thin slices of buttered bread, and a bottle of Sancerre.
(My husband calls me “Diamond Jim” because of my profligate enjoyment of oysters.)
But then, on another such business trip, I escaped and went to meet one of my husband’s friends, an academic wastrel fluent in French and several other languages. He was taking a kind of sabbatical in which he lived in a tiny room on the Ile St-Louis and brooded and smoked while deciding what to do with his life.
He took me out to lunch. We went to an undistinguished-looking place that felt like a sandwich joint. He ordered for us in mellifluous French. It was mesmerizing to see this person I knew very well speaking in a language that I had never heard coming out of his mouth before. The first course was a lentil salad topped with a few slices of smoked duck breast. The red wine he ordered was the first “house wine” I ever had in France, and I discovered that “house wines” in France are REALLY GOOD, not what they are here in the US (Inglenook et al.)
The combination of the earthy lentils with the unctuous duck breast and the robust red wine was heavenly. We had a main dish, as well, but I don’t recall what it was. We didn’t really need it.
Looking to recreate the lentil salad recipe, I came across the one below, which is a good approximation. Since smoked duck breast is hard to find where we are, I substituted slices of just-ripe avocado drizzled with a bit of the lentil dressing. Not bad!
Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells:
1 lb lentils
1 medium onion, halved and stuck with several whole cloves
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the lentils and pick over carefully for pebbles. Put the lentils, onion, garlic, and bay leaf in a heavy saucepan; cover with 1 inch of cold water. Cover and bring just to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender but just intact, 25-35 minutes. Check the lentils during cooking; during most of the cooking water should be visible when you tilt the pan slightly. Add water as needed, but not more than 1/4 cup. By the end of the cooking time, the liquid should be absorbed.
When the lentils are cooked, remove the pan from the heat and discard the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Whisk together the vinegar, oil and salt to taste in a small bowl. Pour over the warm lentils and toss to coat. Just before serving, season to taste with pepper and additional salt if necessary.