What Can You Do with Beluga Lentils?
My trips to Trader Joe’s are few and far between. So when they add cool new stuff to their shelves, I don’t usually know about it until it’s not exactly cool and new anymore, at least not to anyone but me. I don’t know how long they’ve been selling pre-cooked black Beluga lentils, but I saw them and I had to have them. They look so unique and intriguing, like caviar or little shiny pebbles. But what does one do with lentils?
For some reason, I expected them to taste different from other lentils. Yeah, I’m not always the most logical person. They tasted like lentils, and hence, were not at their best as a side dish. A little dry. A little boring. Thankfully, the swordfish and Moroccan-seasoned vegetables I ate them with were plenty flavorful on their own. And I used the leftovers to make a chicken, lentil, and green bean salad that was more delicious than I expected, so not all of those beautiful, gleaming black lentils were wasted.
While the Beluga lentils were not the shining star I expected them to be as a side dish, the Moroccan-seasoned vegetables sure were. I let them cook so long they browned in places, and were soft but not mushy. All these lovely vegetables–man, I really cannot say often enough how excited I am to move back to a place where they can be found all year round, and not just during the four days known as summer in New England.
I found the Moroccan seasoning when I was cleaning off our monstrous spice rack, when I first moved into the house. The spice rack dominates our kitchen, and was so full of random crap when I moved in that it took me an entire afternoon to go through all the bottles, tins, and jars, getting rid of dried herbs with no scent or flavor, various salts that were unredeemably stuck in their jars, and bottles of strange Chinese health tinctures no one had touched in years. On one shelf I found a small jar labeled in French:
And what was in it smelled so good, I couldn’t throw it away, despite having no clue how long it had been living in our kitchen, untouched. The small amount of French I remember from high school came in handy–this stuff is a mixture of salt, onion, cumin, pepper, garlic, chili powder, mint, and parsley. And I use it all the time. I don’t know what I’ll do when I run out. I might have to fly to France to buy more. And what I pity that would be.
This whole meal was pretty simple: I blanched the green beans in boiling water for a minute or two, then added the green beans and yellow pepper strips to a skillet with olive oil, a generous shake of the Moroccan spice, and a bit of coarse sea salt. I let the vegetables cook for about three or four minutes, while the lentils cooked in their bag in boiling water. Then I just scooted all the vegetables in the skillet over to one side and added the swordfish steak to the same skillet. I cooked the swordfish for about three minutes on each side, and only flipped the vegetables around once or twice, so they got nice and browned.
Of course, I had a lot more lentils that I wanted to eat in one sitting, and I spent some time trying to figure out what to do with them, as well as the rest of the green beans I cooked up. Cooking for one can be tricky, I tell ya! Eventually I came up with the idea to create some kind of salad: Chicken, green beans, and lentils with a light mustard-y chive dressing. I was a little nervous as I started putting this salad together, and I’m the first to admit it’s not the most attractive thing that’s come out of my kitchen lately.
But you know? It was really delicious! I couldn’t even bring myself to save any leftovers for the next day, I just wanted to eat the whole bowl right then and there. I don’t make chicken salad that often, but that might have to change, because this was a perfect summer dinner.
Chicken, Green Bean, and Lentil Salad
- 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
- about 1 c. blanched green beans and carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
- about 3/4 c. to 1 c. Beluga lentils, cooked
- about 1 T. dijon mustard
- 1/2 T. mayonnaise
- 1 T. chopped chives
- 1 1/2 to 2 T. olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
I poached the chicken breast, but you could probably cook it however you want. Grilled chicken might be extra delicious in this salad. But poaching is easy and painless: just add the chicken to a skillet, with water about halfway covering the chicken. Cook it for about 10-15 minutes, with the water just boiling, until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, and then set it aside to cool off a bit while you make the dressing.
Mix together the mustard, mayonnaise, chives, and a bit of salt and pepper, and then slowly pour in the olive oil while vigorously whisking to emulsify the dressing. I will admit: I cheat and use the whisk attachment of my immersion blender, because I just do not have the power to whisk vigorously enough to create the level of emulsification I seek. I love my immersion blender.
Once the chicken is cooled off a bit, use two forks to shred the chicken breast into bite size pieces. Then just toss all the ingredients together, and a pinch more salt, if you like salt as much as I do. And you’ve got chicken salad. Unattractive, perhaps, but I don’t discriminate.
In the coming months, you might start to notice some repeat recipes. You might start to wonder if I’ve gone soft, gotten boring, stopped experimenting. Well, all of those things may be true. But more importantly, I’m embarking on a project that involves perfecting some of my favorite recipes and re-photographing them to put together as a gift for friends and family and whatnot this holiday season. Yeah, why am I thinking about the holiday season in June? I’m actually shocked that I’m thinking so far ahead, but I feel pretty sure this project is going to take some serious time, and when better to get started on it than this summer, when I have so little else to do. I promise I’ll do my best not to be too boring and repetitive. And I’m sure I’ll have some new things to throw in the mix, too. Like the butterscotch brownie ice cream I’ve been planning for the last week. Yeah, you want to come back now, don’t you?