No two ways about it. Lentils are adaptable, wholesome and so darn homely. They’re best enjoyed hot in soups, curried in Indian-style dal or can be a good addition to cold salads. They are also cheap, high in fiber, nutrient-dense and muddy-looking on a plate. To make up for lentils’ looks, make sure they are really flavorful.
I almost always have lentils in my pantry, the plain khaki colored ones, smaller orange ones and sometimes the tiny black ones. What I don’t have are a lot of lentil recipes.
When I decided I ought to use some of my lentil collection, I went hunting for a recipe and was inspired by a lentil casserole written by James Beard in one of the first cookbooks I ever bought back in the 1970s. Beard suggested adding sausages to lentils for the casserole. He included onions, a bay leaf, parsley, salt and pepper, and relied on a lot knockwurst to make a robust dish. I decided I didn’t need that much meat and thought a couple of garlic sausages would be plenty, but I wanted much more flavor in the lentils.
Onion, for sure, lightly sauteed and stirred in. A couple cloves of garlic, a generous amount of smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, lots of black pepper and home-canned stewed tomatoes with extra tomato sauce make for a tasty late winter, mud-season supper. Keeping cans of stewed or even diced tomatoes on hand will prove awfully useful. If peppers are added, all the better. Pick up another can as soon as you use one up.
If you like heat from peppers, add a few red pepper flakes or chipotle powder. If you are dedicated meat eaters, add a lot more sausage — garlic, sweet or hot Italian sausage, or kielbasa, even cutting them up in chunks after browning and distributing them through the cooked, seasoned lentils.
A few of my lentils are left over. They are destined for a soup lunch another day. I’ll chop and saute some celery, maybe another onion, add the lentils and enough broth of some sort (chicken, beef or vegetarian) to make soup. If it needs it, I’ll add oregano or thyme. If you want a meatier soup, a little cooked crumbled sausage would work.
Green salad next to your lentils and sausage will brighten your plate, but the lentils alone can brighten your palate.
Lentils and Sausage with Stewed Tomatoes
Serves 2-4, depending on how many sausages used
2 cups dried lentils
Sausage, to taste (garlic, Italian mild or hot, or kielbasa)
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1½ to 2 cups stewed tomatoes with sauce
1 tablespoon smoked paprika, or to taste
1 teaspoon or several fresh grinds of black pepper
Red pepper flakes, to taste, optional
1. Cover the lentils with 3-4 cups of water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Set aside.
2. In a heavy skillet or pot, saute the onion in olive oil until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute or so.
3. Drain the lentils, reserving the water, and add to the onion and garlic mixture.
4. Add the tomatoes and sauce, paprika, pepper, and other seasonings to taste distributing them evenly. You should see liquid among the lentils, and if you don’t, add some reserved cooking water.
5. Simmer onions, lentils and tomatoes together over low heat while you fry the sausage in another pan until browned.
6. Leave sausages whole or cut up, as you wish, and add to the lentils to cook together awhile longer, about 30 minutes, adding more lentil cooking water if the lentils absorb the moisture.