Legumes such as lentils are returning to prominence after years of remaining at the back of the culinary cabinet. Their high protein content and rich stores of iron, B vitamins and carbohydrates make them nutritionally newsworthy, and their neutral flavor, similar to split peas, gives them wide appeal.
Lentils may be the most ancient cultivated legume, eaten since biblical times, and they have remained prominent in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines.
These whole seeds can range in color from greenish brown to mahogany, and some varieties are pink, yellow or red. Lentils are available in many supermarkets, and they are sure to be found in Indian or Middle Eastern groceries, often inexpensively in bulk.
A Flavorful Soup
A good introduction to lentils is this flavorful soup, served at room temperature and garnished with yellow peppers, diced ham and green onions, in the manner of gazpacho.
While the soup takes slightly more than an hour to cook, it can be made in advance and refrigerated overnight. Shortly before serving, garnishes such as green onions and yellow pepper can be quickly processed with the medium (4-millimeter) slicing disc.
Dangle-slicing is the technique used to process green onion bottoms without tears. Processing green onions into even rounds takes only seconds as the bottoms are lowered into the food chute and through the slicer while the motor is running.
When dangle-slicing green onions, take care not to allow your fingers to enter the food chute--centrifugal force from the spinning blade tends to pull green onions down. The faster the green onions pass through the disc, the thicker the slices and vice versa.
Therefore, the speed with which green onions are passed through the disc determines the thickness of the slices.
COLD LENTIL SOUP
1 pound lentils, rinsed
4 medium cloves garlic, peeled
6 medium shallots, peeled
2 medium celery stalks, cubed
1 (1/2-pound) slice boiled ham
1 medium tomato, quartered and seeded
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried or fresh chopped thyme
1 quart chicken stock
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
6 medium green onions, trimmed, for garnish
1 medium sweet yellow pepper, seeded and cored, for garnish
Place lentils and 3 cups cold water in 4-quart soup kettle. Cover and heat to boiling. Uncover and boil 1 minute. Drain and set lentils aside.
Insert metal blade in processor container. Mince garlic and shallots by adding to machine with motor on. Transfer mixture to soup kettle. Chop celery and half of ham with 1/2-second pulses, then set aside. Coarsely chop tomato, then set aside.
Add olive oil to soup kettle and slowly saute garlic mixture until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add celery mixture and toss over low heat until softened, 4 minutes longer. Add tomato and cook over medium heat until liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes longer.
Stir lentils, thyme, lentils, stock and 2 cups water into kettle. Cover and simmer 1 hour 15 minutes or until lentils are soft. Uncover and cool.
Return metal blade to processor. With slotted spoon, transfer half of lentils to machine and puree. With motor on, add 2 cups liquid while processing. Repeat to smoothly puree remaining lentils. Strain soup, then cool and add salt, pepper and lemon juice.
For garnishes, insert medium (4-mm) slicing disc in dry processor. Slice green onion bottoms by lowering through food chute with motor on. Set aside. Reserve tops for another use. Cut pepper into 1-inch-wide strips. Insert strips upright, then slice with gentle push and set aside. Cut remaining ham into 1/8-inch dice and add to soup.
Serve soup at room temperature. Pass garnishes separately. Makes 6 servings.