Saturday, August 20, 2011

A little about lentils

It's a nice thing to go back into your childhood food memories every now and then, especially when you're lacking inspiration. It comes to you that there are ingredients rooted in your culture, waiting to be used but failing to appear in your kitchen. I've decided to pull out the lentils and put them to good use. Here's this week's column and recipe published on Saturday, October 20th, 2011. 

In my mind, lentils are those that make up the steaming mugs of spiced lentil soup, warming my hands, sipped on gently while huddled under a blanket in the winter. They are the delicateness in Koshary, a dish we rarely realize is built around lentils; but for the most part, lentils are ignored, almost on purpose. If there's one thing I've noticed, the sad little lentil is at the core of bad Egyptian food jokes and belongs in prison with the people who have been naughty and are undeserving of meat consumption. Of course, it helps that it's cheap.

As important as they should be in Egyptian cuisine what with their abundance and health benefits, the overlooked lentils just aren't.

My love for lentils is rooted in Indian food with my grandmother's extra helpings of slow-cooked creamy Dal Makhani and when I was first told that my beloved crispy Dosa, a crepe made of fermented rice and black lentils, was rich in protein and gluten-free. Apart from that, it has recently occurred to me that I know very little about lentils, away from their tender swollen bellies and fragile skin.

Some rummaging through my treasure trove of books awakened me to the enormous number of perks you're treating your body to while ingesting these little gems. It now makes absolute sense that they'd be served in prison, minus the bad recipe and additional heapings of nastiness.

Let's run through some of those fringe benefits you're providing your body with by choosing lentils. Lentils are the third highest source of plant-based protein after hemp and soybeans and have been touted time and time again as one of the world's healthiest foods. They contain a cholesterol-lowering fiber that works to aid blood sugar disorders with their high fiber content and with only 230 calories to a cup of cooked lentils, you can fill yourself up with no fat involved. Lentils being the clever little things that they are also work at lowering your risk of heart disease with their significant levels of magnesium and folate. I could continue for a while longer but I think it's sufficient to say that they're really, really good for you.

After completing the first half of Ramadan and indulging in its nightly culinary excesses, my body cannot take much more and neither should yours want to. Maybe it's time to start eating properly again, cleansing our systems like we try to do with our souls, of our gluttony and self-indulgence.

Inspired by the flavors of the mini puff pastry pizzas we would find at birthday parties when we were children, this tart is just as addictive and combines many of those bold slap-in-the-face flavors while eliminating the extra cheese as well as replacing the canned with fresh ingredients that will leave you feeling full, thanks to the lentil fiber that we just learned about, minus the heaviness. As for the pastry, puff pastry is a gift to feed that tiny little glutton you've decided to hold on to for just a bit longer.

Aromatic Lentil Tart
Serves 4

You'll need:
1 sheet of ready-rolled frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, lightly whisked
½ a cup of brown lentils, rinsed
2 cups of vegetable stock or water
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 medium-sized tomatoes, sliced
2 tablespoon of olive oil
6 pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
½ a medium onion, finely diced
5 fresh button mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon of thyme
1 medium-sized red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, deseeded and diced
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 loose handful of grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Cook the lentils in a pot of simmering vegetable stock or water over medium heat for 10-15 minutes and set aside. Place the sliced tomatoes in an over-proof dish, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Sautée the onions in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until translucent then add the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of thyme until tender and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius again. Lay the puff pastry sheet out on a baking tray and fold over 3 cm of each side to create a border. Poke holes with a fork inside of the border you've created and brush lightly with olive oil. Brush the border of your pastry with the whisked egg. Begin to layer the tart. Spread half of your cooked lentils and garlic slices to cover the bottom of your tart. Begin to layer your roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers and olives then top with a second layer of lentils and sautéed mushrooms. Drizzle with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and move the tart to the oven. 10 minutes into baking and using a light hand, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and continue to bake until the pastry reaches a golden brown color. It should take around 15-18 minutes to bake in total.


  1. I have never seen lentils used in this way before, but I love it! They are one of my favorite savory ingredients. This sounds delicious :)!

  2. Amy, I've only seen it a few times and think it's a great way to have lentils. Thank you. :)

  3. You totally socked me with this recipe. I can never imagine lentils in tart!! It looks so nice and sounds really delicious.

  4. What an interesting tart. Love this!

  5. What a great use of lentils! I'm a vegetarian so I'm always looking for ideas to incorporate protein. This looks like a yummy savory tart. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Kankana: Thank you. You should try it out!

    Lora: Thank you. :)

    Urvashee: Love that I've helped you out with an idea for your vegetarian diet. I hope you give it a shot.

  7. Oh my gosh I've missed your blog SO much! I have a lot of catching up to do--this looks so great!

  8. Nourhan: Where have you been? I need to see what you've been up to as well. I hope Ramadan has been good to you this year.

  9. Sounds fantastic. I would have never thought of using lentils in a tart.

    And I hate canned Tuna too :) Good to know you through twitter.

  10. Radhika: I urge you to try this out. A really satisfying dish, at least for us at home. I'm definitely going to be making this again. Glad to see someone else shares my hatred of canned tuna. Hooray!

  11. An interesting & delicious dish!!!! Nice space u have here with super awesome photography!! Happy to follow u & keep rocking!!
    Prathima Rao
    Prats Corner

  12. Oh wow, I LOVE lentils and have never seen this way of preparing them. AND I have puff pastry in the freezer. A sign? So much great stuff on your site: I love middle eastern food (Claudia Roden's is one of my favorite cookbooks ever!)and am looking to learn more--you've got a ton of cool stuff here.

  13. Sounds very tasty and I'd like to try it. Do you think it would work on pizza dough?

    1. Hi Anna, thanks for dropping by. I think this recipe would work equally well with pizza dough. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.


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