Guest Post: French Lentils by Nico

I asked Christina if I could write a guest post because I have instantly become a big fan of her mission, because it feels real. No gimmicks, no smoke and mirrors - just real food for real people to try and integrate into their lives. I'm not a food blogger. Nor am I a size 2, spin/crossfit/fitbit/Px287390 health guru here to preach my methods. Like many of you (probably), I'm at the beginning of my "Whole.Health.Happiness" journey and I'm trying to find a way to change, not just the way I eat, but the way I look at food. I've done the fad diets - low carb, no carb, south beach, New York, paleo, whole 30 - and what I've learned is that I always end up going back to eating the way I've always eaten. So my new goal is to use the foods I love and know to create healthy meals that still feel like comfort food.

I grew up in a house of French cooking - Boeuf Bourguignon, poulet roti, atrichaut vinaigrette - it was a Julia Child daydream. But, for those who are well versed in Julia Child's mantra for French cuisine, "If you're afraid of butter, use cream," as delicious as our meals were, they weren't always what most could consider "healthy."

Luckily, both my French mother and her French mother (my Mami) value the rewards of healthy living - my grandmother is 90 years old and still does yoga in the morning, and when my other (who is in her 60's) isn't playing tennis she is running 8 miles on the elliptical machine. So as the years went on butter was replaced by olive oil and cream by milk or chicken stock, but the smells and flavors of the south of France never dissipated.

So as I started cooking my dinner tonight I thought to myself, "Hey! Maybe Christina would like this recipe," and with a quick offer to guest blog, here I am: Post MFA memoir writer gone food blogger telling the wonderful readers of WHH how to make my three-generation's old French Lentils.

What you need:

  • 1 cup of fried lentils (French preferred, but any organic dried lentil will do)
  • 1 tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 large yellow onion (diced)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • Dried Thyme (approx 2 tbs, i'll explain)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (again, I eyeball this but you can remove completely or add more according to your spice desires)
  • *Red wine vinegar (optional)

How to Make:

In a saucepan (high sides but not a pot) heat the olive oil on medium heat. While the oil heats, dice the onion - I usually do a course chop like I would for a tuna or chicken salad - and add to the oil along with dried bay leaves, crushed red pepper, and the dried thyme. My method is to dubmp a bunch of thyme in my hand and then sprinkle it on the onions until everything has a nice coating on it. Stir onions and spices until caramelized. Next add the cup of dried lentils and stir until they are coated in the oil. Add your 2 cups of (preferably hot) chicken broth and stir.

Now, although you might want to keep stirring and fussing with them, for the rest of the cooking time you should treat the lentils like rice. Cover them and simmer on low heat until they are soft and the liquid disappears (about 45 minutes). 

DON'T STIR! I can't tell you how lovely and soft and most the lentils will be if you just leave them alone - otherwise you risk drying them out. If the lentils aren't soft enough and the liquid is gone, ad more broth. If they are getting too soupy, turn up the heat and uncover to help evaporate the liquid.

French Lentils Plated - Nico.jpg

Mami's tried and true trick with the lentils is that 5 minutes before serving (after removing from heat) she stirs in 1 to 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar - she says it brings out the earthy flavors.

Vegetarians can eat them alone (using veggie broth in place of the chicken broth to cook them) or they can be served with fish (see photo), pork, chicken or sausage. And they are equally as good cold the next day for lunch!

So there you have it...French lentils from a French girl who doesn't miss butter or cream one bit! Now, cheese is another story.