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Fear Conquered: Lentils
I've preached before about how cooking with beans is one of the best ways to say "I love you". I've even claimed cooking with beans is environmentally friendly (read more about all this craziness). Now I'll make my most outrageous claim yet - beans are comfort food.
Before you scoff, you must try this lentil marinara sauce over spaghetti pasta. I'm kid you not. This recipe will change your perspective on beans (at least lentils) and you'll never go back to plain-jane vanilla marinara with ground hamburger (or the dreaded frozen sponge balls). This sauce is rich with the complexity of layered flavors, the lentils are meaty and tender and when you add the tendrils of pasta - it's simply better than the classic Italian comfort. That's not blasphemy. It's truth. Because the good Lord knows, I could eat classic Italian every day and never whisper a word of complaint.
The most comforting part of this recipe is truly the flavor - I'd choose this lentil marinara over a meat sauce any day. And just to make this dish even more appetizing, it's healthy, healthy, healthy. The lentils are packed with fiber (the kind that lowers cholesterol), nearly fat-free, loaded with minerals and so darn easy to cook. They're a simple little wonder-bean of healthfulness.
Growing up, my siblings and I tasted nearly every bean in nearly every imaginable state - casseroles, soups, pancakes, desserts, salads, stir-frys and of course, spaghetti sauce. To avoid bean dishes that can only be described while in the confines of a safely padded environment, my sisters would repeatedly make a version of this very same lentil marinara. Unlike my dad's dreaded soybean tuna casserole, the lentils in this marinara were soft and tomatoey. Unlike unnaturally gritty chickpea cheesecake, this sauce managed a familiar and comforting texture. Lentil marinara became a refuge from bean cuisine gone wrong.
Several years ago, I decided I should try to recreate this lentil comfort from my childhood. I had no recipe, no measurements and only a vague recollection of ingredients and flavors. The recipe below is but distant cousin of that first attempt to recapture childhood memories. What I present here is a refined and carefully balanced orchestra of flavors.
This recipe, like most marinara sauces, is easy and forgiving. It's based around four core flavors that positively sing when combined: tomatoes, lentils, vinegar and salt. Everything else just rounds out the flavor, so you can swap out ingredients you don't have or cut back on seasonings to suit your tastebuds. But if this is your first foray into lentil marinara, I strongly encourage you to try this recipe as written. Then fix it to your taste on your second, third and tenth repeats. Because you will be making this again.
STORY | PRINTABLE RECIPE | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
|Add 4 1/2 cups of water to a large sauce pan|
|Cover the saucepan and heat water to the boil|
|While water comes to the boil, measure 1 1/4 cups dry lentils|
|Add lentils to boiling water|
|Add 2 teaspoons sea salt to lentils|
|Add 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon each of ground cumin, onion powder and garlic powder|
|Add seasonings to lentils and stir to distribute spices|
|Cook lentils uncovered over medium heat for 30 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed by lentils|
|While lentils cook, prepare 1 large yellow onion|
|Finely dice onion|
|Prepare large bell pepper (I recommend either yellow or orange bell pepper)|
|Finely dice bell pepper|
|Prepare 1 large carrot|
|Finely dice carrot|
|Heat extra virgin olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat|
|Add onion, pepper and carrot to saute pan and saute for 8 minutes until softened|
|Strip 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves off stems|
|Mince 4 cloves of garlic|
|Chop Italian flat-leaf parsley (you will need 2 Tablespoons, chopped)|
|Add garlic, parsley and thyme to saute pan and stir through. Saute for 2 minutes|
|Add 2 Tablespoons of distilled vinegar to saute pan and stir through for 30 seconds|
|3 cups homemade marinara sauce|
|Add marinara sauce to saute pan to begin building final sauce|
|Add softened lentils (and any remaining water) to saute pan|
|Stir together all ingredients until well combined|
|Measure 1 Tablespoon dried oregano, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon each of cracked black pepper and dried basil|
|Add measured seasonings and a dried bay leaf to sauce; stir through, cover sauce and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes|
|Measure 1/4 cup distilled vinegar|
|Add vinegar to sauce and stir through; cover and simmer sauce over low heat for 30 minutes|
|Prepare optional fresh basil leaves|
|Add torn basil leaves to sauce during final 5 minutes of cooking|
|Serve lentil marinara sauce over cooked spaghetti pasta with optional parmesan shavings and torn fresh basil|
STORY | PHOTO TUTORIAL | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
Lentil Marinara Sauce
Prep Time: 45 min
Cook Time: 30 min
Ingredients (serves 6)
- 1 1/4 cups dry lentils
- 4 1/2 cups purified water
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 large carrot, finely diced
- 1 bell pepper, finely diced (recommend yellow or orange)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 small handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 6 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar, divided
- 3 cups homemade marinara sauce
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 handful fresh basil leaves, torn (optional)
- In a large sauce pan over high heat, bring the water to the boil and add the lentils. Reduce the heat to medium and add the lentil seasonings; simmer the lentils uncovered for 30 minutes until most of the water has been absorbed by the lentils; remove from heat and set aside
- While the lentils cook, prepare the onion, bell pepper, carrot, garlic, parsley and fresh thyme
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat; add the onion, bell pepper and carrot to the pan and sauté over medium heat for 8 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally
- Add the garlic, parsley and thyme to the pan and sauté for 2 minutes, then stir in 2 Tablespoons of vinegar and cook for another minute
- Add the marinara, cooked lentils, pepper, salt, oregano, dried basil and the bay leaf to the pan; reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer the sauce for 15 minutes
- Stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of vinegar, cover and simmer the sauce for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally; serve over cooked spaghetti pasta with an optional sprinkle of freshly torn basil
An original recipe by Javelin Warrior. © 2010 Javelin Warrior. All rights reserved.
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Hungry for Tips?
- Vinegar and lentils are very special friends. The vinegar cuts through the inherent chalkiness of lentils and helps elevate their flavor. So while 6 Tablespoons of vinegar may sound like a lot, you'll be glad you added every drop. I use simple white vinegar for this recipe, but you could also try red wine vinegar, cider vinegar or white wine vinegar for different palette nuances.
- I know it's tempting to skip the final 30-minute simmer of the sauce, but resist the temptation because the flavors really develop during these final 30 minutes.
- There really are a LOT of ingredients in this recipe if you count all the spices. But it's all about rounding out the flavor and building layers of complexity. Which is what makes this sauce so comforting. So while you could simplify the sauce by eliminating ingredients, you will also strip out flavor notes.
- When possible, always cook al dente pasta in the pan with sauce for 2-3 minutes over low heat before serving; this gives the pasta a chance to really absorb the flavors of the sauce and elevates the entire pasta experience.
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