I was introduced to lentils done this way by my host mom in Belgium when I was an exchange student. It was a hearty meal at the end of a drizzly belgian winter day. Comfort food for my homesick Canadian heart. Paired with creamy mashed potatoes, they reminded me of my mom's shepherd's pie, deconstructed.
The dish is savoury and rich. And most of the creaminess comes from the lentils themselves - making them a rare breed of virtuous comfort food. The trick is to cook them in plenty of liquid for an longer time, allowing them to break down. My host mom says she didn't add any cream at all to hers - but I like the bit of added richness.
New to lentils? This is the place to start. I love these little morsels because they don't need to be pre-soaked, as other dried beans do, and they cook in 20 minutes. I love them in salads in the summer, and in soups in the winter. They're loaded with protein and fibre.
Dried lentils often have bits of non-lentil matter mixed in, so you should sort through them and then rinse them well. The other thing with cooking lentils from scratch is to make sure you don't add any salt until they are tender. Salt makes them tough.
This is a perfect, healthy dish for a chilly day. And I'd bet kids would love it - with its creamy texture and mild flavours.
Pressed for time? You can swap a can of drained, rinsed lentils - simply reduce the water to 1 cup, and reduce the cooking time to about 25 minutes. Yields 6 servings.
3 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
5 cups water (plus more if needed)
1/2 cup half-and-half (10%) cream
salt, to taste
Fresh parsley (optional)
1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and saute 5 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Stir in lentils and water; cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft. Add more water as needed if lentils are drying out. You want them to be quite saucy and very tender. Stir in cream and season well with salt. Sprinkle with fresh parsley, if desired.