When you're talking the tiny refined French variety of lentil, you've got a legume ready for prompt deployment.
Most dried legumes need to be soaked overnight, which rules them out for last-minute meals. Not so French-style green lentils, known as vertes du Puy in France after the region where they're grown (they're now also grown in Italy, North America and Australia).
These small, beautiful lentils have a slightly nutty flavour, don't need soaking and are quick to cook, so you can have them on the table in next to no time. They have a great texture, too; unlike red or brown lentils, they hold their shape and are less inclined to turn to mush.
Lentils take up flavours easily and benefit from simmering in a flavoursome stock. Green lentils are happy dressed in a vinaigrette and served warm or at room temperature, here with roast beetroot and soft egg. They also make excellent bedfellows for smoky bacon, confit duck or pork - and they're great for soaking up the juices of roast meats.
Beetroot and soft-egg salad with warm lentil vinaigrette
Preheat oven to 200C. Trim 2 bunches of baby beetroot, wrap each beetroot in foil and roast until tender (45-50 minutes). When cooled, peel and halve. Boil 6 room-temperature eggs until cooked to your liking (7 minutes for soft yolk), then refresh and peel. Boil 150gm small green lentils until just tender (20-25 minutes), drain and place in a bowl. Sauté 1 thinly sliced golden shallot and 1 finely chopped garlic clove in 90ml olive oil over medium-high heat until tender (1-2 minutes). Remove from heat, stir in 1½ tbsp red wine vinegar and finely grated rind and juice of ½ lemon, season to taste and stir in lentils. Break eggs in half and serve with beetroot and warm lentil vinaigrette, flat-leaf parsley and chopped chives.
Roast chicken with green lentils and lemon
Preheat oven to 200C. Scatter 200gm small green lentils, 1 each finely chopped golden shallot, carrot and garlic clove in a roasting pan, top with 1 butterflied chicken, skin side up, and squeeze over the juice of 1 lemon. Add 250ml chicken stock, drizzle chicken with olive oil and season the skin to taste. Tuck a few sprigs of thyme and tarragon under the chicken, cover with foil and roast for 30 minutes. Remove foil and roast until chicken is golden brown and lentils are tender (25-30 minutes), then serve with extra thyme and tarragon scattered over.
Lentil and garlic soup
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, add 1 each finely chopped leek, carrot and celery stalk and 3 finely chopped garlic cloves and sauté until tender (8-10 minutes). Deglaze pan with 150ml dry white wine and simmer until almost evaporated, then add 1 litre chicken stock, 300gm small green lentils, 200 gm canned chopped tomatoes, 3 thyme sprigs and 1 fresh bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer until lentils are tender (25-30 minutes). Discard herbs, add 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (or to taste), then pulse with a hand-held blender to a coarse purée. Adjust thickness with water or extra stock, season to taste and keep warm. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add 120gm bacon lardons and fry until crisp (2-3 minutes). Stir in 1 finely chopped garlic clove and 2 tsp thyme. Top with lardons and some of the cooking oil and serve hot.
Braised lentils and sausages
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add 4 thick pork and red wine sausages and brown all over (3-4 minutes), then remove from pan. Add 2 finely chopped bacon rashers, 1 each finely chopped onion, carrot and celery stalk and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and sauté until tender and translucent (6-7 minutes). Add 500ml chicken stock, 250gm small green lentils and 500ml water, bring to a simmer and cook until lentils are just tender (20-25 minutes), returning sausages to pan for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Stir in ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 tbsp chopped sage, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard and 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, season to taste and serve.
- Adding salt to the cooking water can lengthen the cooking time of lentils and other legumes. It's best to season the dish once the lentils are cooked to your liking.