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Eat this! Lentils, a prehistoric foodstuff

3 Vines’ lentils and fennel with sausage.

3 Vines’ lentils and fennel with sausage, served in a bread bowl.

What it is: Lentils, Lens ensculenta, are small nutty tasting legumes or pulses. Round, oval or heart-shaped, they’re most commonly brown or green, but also grow in black, yellow, red and orange varieties.

Used in cuisines around the world, lentils are high in protein and popular in vegetarian cookery.

Where it comes from: As a food crop, lentils date to prehistoric times. Archeological evidence in the Paleolithic and Mesolithic layers of Franchthi Cave in Greece shows they were eaten 13,000 to 9,500 years ago. They are among the foods mentioned in the Bible: In Genesis, Esau gave up his birthright for a dish of lentils.

Eric Feltman

Eric Feltman

Lentils grow in pods, with one or two seeds per pod. Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Washington form the principal U.S. producers.

What to do with it: Unlike other dried beans, lentils don’t need soaking before cooking. Fancy green or “French” lentils keep their shape when cooked, making them excellent in salads, while common brown lentils soften and make great soups. Softer and milder-flavored red and yellow lentils typically go into in purees, such as Indian dal.

At 3 Vines Cafe & Wine Bar in northwest suburban Sleepy Hollow, Chef Eric Feltman creates a hearty stew of lentils and sausage, flavored with fennel and served in bread bowls — ideal for cold, late winter’s nights. He suggest pouring a great pinot noir alongside.
3 Vines Cafe’s lentils and fennel with sausage
Chef Eric Feltman

1 cup dried brown or green lentils
4-1/2 cups cold water
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 medium (3/4-pound) fennel bulb, stalks discarded, reserving fronds
3-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1-1/4 pounds sweet Italian rope sausage
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vinegar
4 small round bread loaves, such as boules
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Bring the lentils, water, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender but not falling apart, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the fennel bulb into 1/4-inch dice. Chop enough fennel fronds to measure 2 tablespoons and set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking; stir in the diced fennel, onion, carrot, fennel seeds, and remaining teaspoon salt. Cover tje pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.

Lightly cook the sausage in remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until brown and cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut the sausage on the bias into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Drain the cooked lentils in a sieve set over a bowl, saving the cooking liquid. Stir the lentils into vegetables with enough cooking liquid to moisten (1/4 cup to 1/2 cup) and cook over moderate heat until heated through. Stir in the parsley, pepper, vinegar and 1 tablespoon of the fennel fronds. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Cut and hollow out the bread to form bowls, trimming rounds taken from the top to flatten. Place the bread bowls into the oven to brown and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.

Spoon the lentils into the bowls, top with sausage and sprinkle with the remaining fennel fronds and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Top with the bread rounds and serve immediately. 4 servings.
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