Cooking for Your Vegetarian on Valentines Day!

Last year for Valentine’s, I made several recipes from the book I had been given for Christmas called “Jerusalem” by Yotom Ottollenghi.  This year, I think I have upped the game!  I am making lentil “meatballs” and fresh pasta, with a lemon pesto.  I did get the idea from a blog a I read quite a bit, but the pasta making is something I have been doing for years on my own, so the addition of it wasn’t hard.  I’ll give you all three recipes, so you can duplicate it for yourself!  I’ll blog the pasta making, and the hazelnut cheese cake I blatantly stole from Nigella and made my own, tomorrow and Monday.

The Hubby and I both love meatballs with pasta and sauce, and luckily you can get some good quality “fake” meatballs on the market.  I even found a new product called Neat, which uses ground nuts, and no soy, and you can pretty much add an egg and roll your own!  This recipe caught my eye, mainly because it incorporates lentils with some ricotta cheese to give it life and lightness.  Honestly, the mixture looks very much like a meatball, and the feel when you roll them out and bake them is almost identical.

Lentil “Meatballs”, by way of “Sprouted Kitchen”:

  • 2 c cooked lentils (that’s about 1 cup uncooked, I used French Puys, and added the fennel seed to the cooking water)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 c ricotta
  • 1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seed, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp dried or 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp each of each salt and pepper
  • 2/3 c fresh breadcrumbs, or Panko

In a food processor, or blender, process the cooked lentils until they’re pureed.  They will be dry, but that’s OK.  Add all the other ingredients and pulse until the mixture comes together.  It should look greyish and you will be able to see some of the lentil pieces.  Scrape this all out into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill well.  I made it in the morning and formed the meatballs around 5pm.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.  You can lightly coat the foil with oil, or not, the oil will make them a little crustier.  Roll out the balls in tablespoon amounts, I used the mini-ice cream scoop you see below.

Lentil meatballs

Bake them for 10 – 12 minutes, then give the pan a little shake, so they brown on all sides, and return to the oven for another 5 – 10 minutes.  If you leave them in for the longer time, check frequently after the 17 minute mark.  Once brown, take the sheet out of the pan and allow to cool, then serve with the pesto below, or any sauce, or dip you like.  I also served them with pasta, and at room temperature.

Lemon Pesto

  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly cut up
  • 1/4 c pine nuts (I used walnuts, Hubby hates pine puts)
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 tsp sea or Kosher salt
  • 1 c packed basil leaves
  • 1/4 – 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

Put everything except the olive oil and Parmesan in a food processor or blender.  Process until everything is finely minced.  Slowly add the olive oil down the funnel when processing.  Everything will begin to cohere in a thick puree.  Scrape out of the processor into a bowl, stir in the Parmesan.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate until you need it.

Lemon pesto

And tomorrow, the pasta recipe!

Lentils are good for you, but they actually taste good too!

Happy March everyone!  You’ll notice that I have moved the blog to WordPress.  I heard it was an easier site to work with, and so I am trying it!  Let me know what your thoughts are on the new format and ease of use.

Although this has been the mildest winter I can ever remember, the sun hasn’t been out much here in Michigan, so the dismal look and feel of the winter is still around.  It makes me cook comforting, cold weather food and lentils really fit the bill here. I can honestly say, other than heavy, gloopy canned soup; I haven’t really eaten much in the way of lentils for most of my life.  When I started cooking for a vegetarian, I discovered the ease and variability of cooking with beans and legumes.  Then one day we were exploring around a natural gourmet food store, and I came upon a bin of these beautiful slate green lentils that were so eye-catching to me! I had to have them, so bought 2 pounds and took them home immediately!

If you follow Nigella, as you know I do, you have probably heard of Puy lentils but I had never really researched or experimented with them.  My memories were always the little cylindrical plastic sleeves you see in the supermarkets for “soup mix”.  They always have a solid chunk of lentils in them, right next to the spice that mix that you can never really put your finger on. The Puy lentils are different from them and are actually famed for being “the best”.  Typically, you see them called French green lentils.  They hold up very well to cooking and they don’t go all to mush unless you crush them when you’re cooking them.  Puy’s have a distinctive flavor, very earthy and hardy, with a bit of crunch to them, and I have grown to love them.

There are many other types of lentils, red, yellow and orange which you typically see in Indian foods and are called dal.  All of those types tend to be more tender when you cook them.  In general, lentils are very high in fiber and protein, are very easy to cook and flavor, and even these special “Puy’s” are definitely very inexpensive to buy.  So you get great bang for your buck with them.

Now, this recipe has a great deal of red wine in it, so if you’re cooking for kids, you may want to substitute the wine for some good quality, low salt vegetable broth.  And remember, if you won’t drink it don’t cook with it!  Also, when you start cooking, the liquid seems to be way too much.  It’s exactly the right amount so trust me here.  I typically start checking them at about 35 minutes, because each batch of dried lentils you get is different, so if the liquid is still covering the lentils, continue cooking for another 10 – 15 minutes.  But, once you hit the 40-minute mark, start listening for a dry pan and check every few minutes although you should resist the urge to stir them much. There will be little to no liquid in the pot, and the lentils will easily mash when you press them with a fork.  If you find there is still a lot of liquid, take the lid off, and raise the heat up to medium, and let the extra liquid boil away.  When there is virtually no liquid left, take the pot off the heat and stir in the vinegar, then taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

Puy Lentils in Red Wine

1 cup green French green Puy lentils (or any lentil, except red or yellow)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 shallots, finely chopped*

2 garlic cloves, sliced finely

2 bay leaves (optional)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (1 teaspoon fresh)

2 cups good red wine (Spanish wine is great here, maybe a nice Tempranillo)

1 ½ cups water

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or apple cider, red wine, balsamic vinegar, anything with nice flavor)

Before you start cooking, rinse the lentils well, pick through them and remove any stones, leaves or stems, then place them in a bowl and cover them by about an inch with hot water and let them soak for about 20 minutes.  Once they’re soaked and slightly soft, drain them, rinse with cold water and set them aside to drain in a colander.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy pot with a tight fitting cover.  Once it’s melted add the shallots, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently until the shallots turn golden brown.  Be careful not to burn them, or you will have to start over.  Lower the heat to medium and add in the wine.  Bring the mixture to a boil and allow to cook for 1 minute. Add the drained lentils and then the water, stir well. Allow the pot to come to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 40 – 45 minutes. There will be little to no liquid in the pot, and the lentils will easily mash when you press them with a fork.  If you find there is still a lot of liquid, take the lid off, and raise the heat up to medium, and the the extra liquid boil away.  When there is virtually not liquid left, take the pot off the heat and stir in the vinegar, then taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

As always, comments are welcome and variations are encouraged!

*Note: If you don’t have shallots, you can use more garlic (2 more cloves) or add a small finely chopped yellow union.