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Versatile and neutral, lentils absorb flavours and work with many ingredients

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Here are two innovative and delicious recipes using lentils created by chef Michael Smith.

Lobster Lentil Arugula Salad

Chef Michael Smith, who hails from Fortune, P.E.I., is at the heart of Canada's lobster fishery. His salad combines the earthy heartiness of lentils, the luxurious sweetness of lobster and the peppery flavour of arugula.

Lentils

1 l (4 cups) water (approx)

250 ml (1 cup) green or du Puy lentils

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

Lobster

2 to 4 lobsters

4 l (16 cups) water

125 ml (1/2 cup) salt

Salad

15 ml (1 tbsp) canola or sunflower oil

15 ml (1 tbsp) cider vinegar

15 ml (1 tbsp) honey

15 ml (1 tbsp) Dijon mustard

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

4 thinly sliced green onions

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 large carrot, shredded

142 g (5 oz) arugula (about 1.5 l/6 cups)

Lentils: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring water, lentils and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and continue cooking and tasting just until lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Strain any excess water and let lentils cool to room temperature.

Lobster: Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring water and salt to a vigorous boil. Remove rubber bands from claws by firmly grasping and crossing claws over the body. Plunge lobsters into water and cook for 15 minutes. Let lobsters cool until you can handle them. Protect hands with a pair of gloves and remove all meat from the tail, knuckles and claws. Grasp lobster firmly by the tail and head and twist off tail. Crush in your hand to break shell, then pry apart tail. Break claw open with the back of a knife or nut cracker. Cut open knuckles.

In a large salad bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, honey, mustard and salt. Toss in vegetables and cooked lentils. Just before serving, add lobster and arugula and toss everything together thoroughly, evenly distributing vinaigrette.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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Bacon Lentil Burritos

Lentils do such a good job of absorbing the bright sunny flavours of the Southwest that no one notices the missing meat in this burrito, a favourite of chef Michael Smith's children.

Filling

4 thick slices bacon, chopped

1 onion, diced

5 ml (1 tsp) chili powder

5 ml (1 tsp) cumin powder

5 ml (1 tsp) dried oregano

250 ml (1 cup) dry green lentils

1 l (4 cups) water

250 ml (1 cup) corn

5 ml (1 tsp) salt

5 ml (1 tsp) hot sauce

Burritos

4 large soft tortillas

1 carrot, shredded

125 g (4 oz) "taco-blend" shredded cheese (approx)

50 ml (1/4 cup) salsa (approx)

Handful or two of cilantro leaves and tender stems

Begin by crisping bacon. Toss it into a saucepan along with a splash or two of water. Bring mixture to a simmer. As bacon begins simmering, the water will encourage it to cook evenly. Eventually the water boils away, leaving the bacon bits to crisp in the rendered bacon fat. Be patient. When the bits are crisp, strain bacon.

Toss onion and seasonings into bacon and stir until flavours brighten and textures soften, 5 minutes or so.

Pour in lentils and water and bring mixture to a slow, steady simmer. Continue cooking as lentils absorb moisture and begin softening. Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the works. Eventually lentils will become tender and absorb all the water, about 45 minutes. If the mixtures still seems a bit wet for a burrito filling, simmer a few minutes longer. In the last few minutes of cooking, stir in corn, salt and hot sauce.

Lay 4 tortilla shells on work surface and evenly divide filling among them. Top with carrot, cheese and salsa. Sprinkle with crisp bacon and top with lots of cilantro. Fold in sides and roll up tightly.

Makes 4 burritos.

Source: Recipes created by Chef Michael Smith.