THE WASHINGTON POST – Until recently, most of my cooking experience with lentils involved the large green ones cooked in a pot with diced onion and chunks of carrot. I would whip up a batch when I wanted an inexpensive, quick-to-make pot of filling food that I could eat for a few days.
In 2020, I developed a deeper appreciation for the rich variety of the legume and the myriad ways you can cook with them thanks to the variety of recipes we have tested and published here at The Washington Post.
This week, I’m sharing a simple gratin featuring one of my now-favourites, the French lentil, which is a variety of green lentil, but smaller and darker. I like them because after cooking they remain a bit firm. Also, while still earthy, they have a milder, more subtle flavour.
Because they hold their shape, they look so pretty in dishes like this one, with its pale, crunchy feta and panko topping that when scooped out reveals the dark legumes beneath.
You can buy precooked, vacuum-packed lentils online and at some specialty stores, but they may be hard to find in most groceries. One of the things that makes lentils so easy to incorporate into weeknight cooking, however, is that they cook so quickly. To make two and a half cups of cooked French lentils for this dish, add a couple of cups of water or broth to a pot with a little salt. Add one cup of lentils and bring it to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes.
This gratin is a great way to use up leftover lentils as well.
And, while one lentil cannot always be substituted for another due to their texture and flavours, in this case, if you can’t find French lentils, you can make the dish with the more common green or brown lentils, which also are more readily available precooked in cans. The bigger green lentils will make the dish a bit heavier and mushier, but the flavour combinations still work.
Also, if you don’t have creme fraiche, you can use a cup of sour cream in its place.
LEEK AND FRENCH LENTIL GRATIN WITH FETA
This simple gratin gets its protein from the lentils and its richness from the tangy creme fraiche and feta cheese. Make your own lentils, use leftovers or buy cooked lentils in vacuum-sealed bags or cans. You can make this dish in a six-cup gratin or an nine-inch square baking pan. If want more crunchy bits, however, make it in a nine-by-13-inch pan. Serve it with a green salad.
Two tablespoons unsalted butter
Three cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
One pound leeks, white and light green parts only, washed well and thinly sliced
Two teaspoons fine sea salt, divided
One teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Two and a half cups cooked French lentils (see NOTE)
One and a quarter cups crème fraîche (may substitute a generous one cup of full- or low-fat sour cream)
Five ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Three quarter cup panko
One tablespoon olive oil
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
In a six-cup gratin or baking dish, combine the butter and garlic and place in the oven to melt. (If you haven’t already, wash and slice the leeks while the butter melts.) Add the leeks to the butter mixture, sprinkle with the salt and pepper and toss to combine. Return the dish to the oven and roast for 20 minutes, or until wilted and softened.
In a medium bowl, combine the lentils and creme fraiche. Spread the lentil mixture evenly over the leeks. Sprinkle the feta over the lentils, followed by the panko, and drizzle with the olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes, or until just golden on top.