PULSE: As in the edible seeds of a legume—and as in, mine quickens at the thought of anything made of lentils right about now. And so I could not resist the last casserole of Lentil, Mushroom and Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie that I had stashed in the freezer in November (those are the ingredients before assembly, above). Now it’s gone! That and other favorite lentil recipes, including my own Barbecue Lentils (minus the grill) and, of course, some lentil soup.
Lens culinaria is said to be the oldest pulse in cultivation, and originated in the Middle East. I have never grown it, but a few catalogs, including Sand Hill Preservation, offer seed of various kinds. It is a cool-season crop, like peas.
I smiled to see that the acclaimed restaurateur and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi (author of “Plenty” and “Jerusalem”) was in a similarly lentil-mad state this first month of the New Year, according to his latest column in “The Guardian” newspaper. He calls them “the ultimate comfort food,” and shares two recipes – the hummus-like Crushed Puy Lentils with Tahini and Cumin, and also Lentils with Mushrooms and Preserved Lemon Ragout. (Get out your metric weight converter to get the measurements right if you’re cooking on this side of the Atlantic.)
The dish that was sleeping in my freezer was not Ottolenghi’s, though, but one-third of a batch of a great one I’d found on TheKitchn [dot] com almost exactly a year ago. I guess January makes cooks everywhere think of lentils. It’s by contributor Anjali Prasertong, a food writer and graduate student who says she is “obsessed with vegetables,” and is studying to be a registered dietitian after shifting from her career as a personal chef. And this:
Anjali just announced today on her personal blog that she is pregnant with her first child, ending a blogging silence of late because she was so ill that, “even thinking about food made me sick.”
The shepherd’s pie base is, of course, lentils, with mushrooms, carrots, celery, onion—enlivened with red wine, bay leaf, smoked paprika, tamari, garlic and parsley. I am not sorry that my paprika was a little on the spicy side, which made a nice contrast to the sweet-as-can-be mashed roasted sweet potato topping. But the secret ingredient that makes the lentil filling all hold together, because of the starch it releases: steel-cut oats. Brilliant. And perfect for assembling to freeze for baking later.