Just the other day, I received another package of 'caviar'. Well, the 'caviar' of lentils, that is, since we roll WFPBNO (whole-food, plant-based, no-added-oil) vegan here. But, yes, the Lentilles du Puy, the green lentils from the Auvergne region (where I just happen to hang my hat when in France) are justifiably très célèbre.
You've probably seen bins at the grocery labelled 'French Green Lentils' and wonder "What's the difference between those and these fancy-schmancy lentils she's going on about?" Ah, cherie, there is a difference, and it's all about the place they're grown.
Puy-de-Dôme is smack in the middle of the Central Massif. And, I'm fortunate to spend a LOT of time there. It's spectacular. The area is a young lava dome, and that volcanic activity has left some of the richest soil imaginable.
Then, there's the method of farming - sans fertilizers. Really. I've actually pulled off to the side of the road and watched the farmers lovingly turn organic matter back into the soils. This isn't large-scale agriculture like we have here in the United States. It's not 'agribusiness'. These are families who've nurtured these fields for generations.
These lentils are magic. They have a fine, mineral-rich flavor. Then, there is the texture. Because of the unique, low-humidity growing area that also has abundant sunshine, the lentils can dry right on the plant. They have less starch than other lentils, and don't get all 'mushy' and 'muddy' when cooked.
Known for their distinctive rich, peppery flavor, Lentilles du Puy are traditionally served as a side dish, in salads, or as a focal point of a meal. As a source of anthocyanins, their dark color, similar to that as found in blueberries and black grapes, provides valuable antioxidants.
How do you know if you're buying the genuine article? After all, lots of bulk bins and packages will say that the lentil is a 'green French lentil' or is a 'du Puy' lentil. Those are inferior imposters. Don't be tempted. Make certain the package say AOC on it. That's the real deal. AOC is short for Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, and is the same standard used for French wines. In France, there is a governing body called the INAO: the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité. This branch of the French Ministry of Agriculture ensures quality for wine, cheese, and other food products. It protects quality, heritage foods like these lentils.
I recommend that you buy the Sabarot brand - AOC - French Green Lentils. Unless you can get friends in France to send you a big sack of the real deal, snort. Hint. Hint.
Lentilles du Puy cook up in just six minutes in your Instant Pot! I cook them in a lightly seasoned broth rather than water. I flavor the broth with another of my French secrets: Maggi Arome. I use it like you might use soy sauce. But, the Arome is more 'vegetal' and less 'salty' tasting. It just makes food taste like I'm back in Nonette. Or, Neuvéglise. But, just a few splashes in the cooking water is all you need. When I'm using 'broth' in any of my cooking, I'll often make a quick broth with just a splash or two of the Arome.
Here's another tip on cooking these lentils: You can toss in a couple big slices of onion, carrot, celery and a Bay leaf to flavor the liquid even more! Oh, la la! If you want to get fancy, tie them up in a bit of cheesecloth, making them easier to fish out at the end.
These lentils can be cooked in a pot on the stove, too. Use 2½ cups water (or broth) to 1 cup lentils. Boil and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes
I also add some Herbes de Provence to the lentil cooking broth. It strikes all the right notes. A pinch or two of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and you're ready to pop the lid on and set the pressure (High) and timer (6 minutes).
When the six minutes is done, do a quick release. Then, drain the lentils and set them aside.
Before you start this dish, cook some brown rice in your Instant Pot. It's easy-peasy. Just 1 cup brown rice to 1 cup water. A pinch of salt. Broth instead of water - but that's how I roll. You can use plain water. Here's the deal - use the Multigrain Setting. High pressure. 23-24 minutes. Natural release. Brown rice - and 'red' rice - tend to undercook when simply using the High Pressure and time. The Multigrain Setting cooks these whole grain and whole rices to perfection. Far better than any rice cooker.
Let's talk about steaming the vegetables. Steaming is one of the most under-rated cooking methods. It was also a big part of the Forks Over Knives Rouxbe Ultimate Plant-based Culinary course. For good reason. Steaming is high efficiency - cooks foods quickly with minimal energy use. It cooks gently - delivering perfectly cooked, tender, flavorful food. And, it cooks food without any additional oil - and calories. If there's downside, I can't find it.
This two-tiered bamboo steamer basket system by Thodd&Go with the platform is brilliant. It beats any other steaming gadget that I've ever used - and puts my older bamboo steamers to shame. That metal ring will let you use the steamer over nearly any type of pot or pan, or in a wok. That alone is genius. But, what I really love are the easy to clean, reusable silicone inserts that keep food from sticking to the bamboo.
This is a very well designed product that should deliver many years of use.
I put the denser foods on the bottom, and when they are close to being tender (al dente) I add the quicker cooking foods on the top. Cover for a couple more minutes.
Remember in prepping your vegetables - to ensure even cooking, the more dense vegetables should be cut to similarly bite-sized pieces. See the carrots and thick asparagus? That's what I mean. And, in that case, I added the asparagus a couple minutes after the carrots.
The snow peas cook really fast. Just a couple minutes to perfect.
Using a sharp paring knife, check for doneness. If it slides into the carrot pieces without any effort, it's done. Same with the chunks of Butternut Squash below.
All that remains to do is to plate it up and enjoy!
Below: Outside the home of relatives in Neuvéglise, France. The 'high' Cantal region. Enjoying some sunshine with sweet ol' Fango.
Leftover lentils were just the thing to combine with some leftover Sauce Bolognese!
It made a very tasty and satisfying lunch with some quickly steamed pea pods (about 3 minutes! ) a warm sourdough roll and slices of tangerine! BAM!
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