Comfort me with lentils. Comfort me with a big bowl of little beans, scented with herbs and a little bit of meat, and served over mashed potatoes or grilled bread drizzled with olive oil.
So humble! The lentil cooks more quickly than most other beans, but the pot still simmers long enough to imbue the earthy-tasting legume with heavenly flavor.
That flavor, in this case, comes from sausage, an easy way to add undertones of fennel seed and hot pepper and oregano to your final dish without actually shaking any spices in. The flavor also comes from red wine, lots of it. The alcohol cooks off but leaves an umami residue, that taste that only reduced wine can give a dish. That taste makes these lentils stand out.
The red wine you use doesn’t have to be particularly awesome, or even all come from one bottle. This is a great recipe if your real mission is to dispose of remaining half glasses sitting in any number of lingering bottles.
In Thailand and Cambodia, Alex and I got really into eating savory breakfasts (among other delicacies). When possible, he always ordred Thai khao thom, a rice soup similar to congee that’s flavored with little bits of pork or chicken, garlic, scallions, and egg. I oscillated between a couple different types of noodle soups. Even when I thought I was craving Western-style breakfasts, eggs or croissants or whatnot, I was amazed at how good the hot broth and starchy noodles felt going down.
As we settle into a jetlagged week and aim to reset our body clocks to a the polar opposite time (Thailand is 12 hours ahead of New York), I’m making comforting foods like these lentils, which we can eat at any time of day, whether it’s 5am breakfast or 6pm dinner, before we crash at 8pm. Don’t invite me to any parties just yet.
I’ll write more about our trip soon, but first, a few mentions you may have missed while I was gone: a fun feature on me on the Martha Stewart Living blog, BuzzFeed‘s round-up of one-tray baked dinners including my potatoes and eggs with pesto yogurt, and a nice slideshow of comfort food on The Glitter Guide that calls BGSK’s tomato-basil soup perfect for those who hate to cook.
Lentils and Sausage, Braised in Red Wine
1 pound (4 links) Italian sausage, taken out of the casing and broken into large bite-sized pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 1/2 cups Puy lentils (those little black ones)
2 cups red wine
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 ounces fresh spinach
Mashed potatoes or bread, for serving
In a large saucepan over high heat, brown 1 pound of sausage (I used 3 links sweet Italian and 1 link hot Italian) in a little oil, potentially in two batches if the pan seems crowded. Remove the sausage to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until the veggies have lost their crunch and the onion is translucent. Add 3 whole cloves garlic, then return the sausage to the pan. Add the lentils, wine, 2 ½ cups water, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the bay leaf.
Raise the heat to high again, and bring to a boil. Cover partially, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the lentils are tender. You can easily make this ahead of time–cool before storing in the fridge and reheat in the pan for serving.
Just before serving, add 2.5 ounces fresh spinach and stir to let the leaves wilt. Taste for salt, adding more as needed. Remove the bay leaf.
Serve with mashed potatoes or over toasted bread.