There were pros and cons to growing up in a health food household. The pros were obvious—eating seasonally from the garden, picking our own rhubarb for rhubarb pies, and very few cavities. But then there were school lunches. I ate my almond butter sandwiches and organic fruit leather with the weight of the world on my shoulders, watching enviously as other kids unrolled their fruit-by-the-foot and plunged little straws into their Capri Suns.
And then there was the issue of the fridge. My mom, years ahead of her time, forbade any food storage methods other than waxed paper, tin foil, and repurposed yogurt containers. You’d reach in to grab some yogurt, open the lid, and jump about a foot at the sight of leftover lentils. Still to this day I open yogurt containers with considerable trepidation.
But beyond the visceral shock of seeing brown legumes when I expected to see white yogurt, leftover lentils have always been one of my favorite snacks. (Anyone else a fan of cold beans? Just me?) I love the way my mom prepares them, sometimes adding carrots and celery, sometimes throwing in bacon or sausage for depth, and I regularly (if cautiously) peruse her fridge, hoping to find leftovers.
I finally got around to asking how she works her magic, and ever since learning this method, lentils have become my favorite base for weeknight meals. They may not be glamorous or photogenic, but prepared this way, lentils become rich, nourishing, and infinitely adaptable.
Simply simmer the dry lentils in water with a few bay leaves until they’re just tender, then create a base of garlic, onions, smoked paprika, and tomato paste, add the lentils back in, and simmer with a splash of chicken broth until fragrantly delicious. The result? Bold. Hearty. Smoky. Umami. Beautiful.
Eat them plain with a swirl of greek yogurt, add them to a wrap with leafy greens, use them in a grain bowl topped with a runny fried egg, put them on toast with goat cheese, or toss them in a salad with your favorite vinaigrette.
Rich, wholesome, and smoky, these lentils are the perfect base for your weeknight dinners. Try them with a swirl of greek yogurt, add them to a wrap with leafy greens, use them in a grain bowl topped with a runny fried egg, or put them on toast with goat cheese.
- 1 cup small brown or French lentils
- 2 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 a small yellow onion, diced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
Place lentils in a large pot and cover with water. Add 1 tbsp olive oil, the bay leaves, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook on medium low for about 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender but not mushy. Remove from heat and set aside, without draining.
In a medium skillet over medium high heat, add remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil and heat until runny. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-7 minutes, or until onion is translucent and beginning to brown.
Add the tomato paste, the smoked paprika, and the chicken or vegetable stock, and cook, stirring frequently until the liquid has evaporated.
Add the cooked lentils to the skillet, along with any remaining cooking liquid. (If there's no cooking liquid remaining, don' worry--just add an additional 1/2 cup or so of stock!) Cook at a steady simmer for 25-30 more minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more salt/paprika to taste.