Since I somehow seem to have stumbled into a tradition of posting a lentil recipe early in every new year, here is another of my favorites.
Although it’s called lentil hummus, all it really has in common with the chickpea-based original is that it’s a chunky puree of spiced and herbed legumes. Where conventional hummus can often be bland and pasty, this is deeply dark, meaty, and savory, more like a pate. While it’s perfectly good as a dip with pita wedges or chips, I like to use it as a spread on crackers and in sandwiches, and it also works very nicely as a filling for stuffed pastas like ravioli.
The recipe originally came from Todd English’s The Olives Table, but as this is one of the books I left in storage when we were on the other coast last year, I had to recreate it as best I could from memory. When I unpacked the book and looked at the original again, I noticed that I had changed the procedure quite a bit, although I had remembered most of the ingredients wth acceptable accuracy. On reflection, I think my procedure is a little bit more forgiving of wandering away from the stove, and the results are just as good.
The idea of seasoning lentils with this mixture of theoretically clashing spices and herbs may seem weird, but I assure you that they actually all play exceptionally well together. The cinnamon, rosemary, hot pepper and allspice all wrap around each other and lift up the low notes of the lentils, giving the whole the kind of intensity you’d never expect from such a humble base of plain brown legumes and vegetables.
The fact that lentils can metamorphose into something this scrumptiously good for you is one of the reasons I’m their biggest fan, and why, if I ever rebrand this blog, it would probably have to be called something like “Cookies and Lentils”. Incidentally, this is officially my hundredth post, so it’s a particularly auspicious lentil recipe!
(Approximated from Lentil Hummus in Todd English’s The Olives Table)
Makes 2 cups
1 cup lentils, preferably brown
3 cups water
Half of a cinnamon stick
1 whole sprig fresh rosemary or 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 cup minced carrots
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or 4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or cilantro
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnishing
Salt and pepper
Combine lentils, cinnamon, rosemary or thyme, bay and garlic in a medium saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the until water has nearly evaporated and lentils are very soft, approximately 30 minutes. Remove the cinnamon, rosemary sprig and bay leaf. (If you used thyme instead, it will have fallen apart and can stay with the lentils.)
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan and add the onions and a generous pinch of salt. Cook until the onions have softened, then the add carrots, hot pepper and allspice and continue cooking until the vegetables have just begun to brown. Add the wine, cover the pan and lower the heat. When the vegetables are soft, remove the cover and cook until the remaining wine has evaporated.
In a food processor or in a bowl with an immersion blender, combine the lentils and the vegetables and process until mostly smooth. Add the fresh herbs, olive oil, and additional salt and pepper and pulse again to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with additional olive oil. Leftovers will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, or can be frozen for later use as a pasta filling.
This is one of those times when brown lentils are preferable to my usual-favorite green or Puy, because you actually want them to break down. I haven’t tried it yet, but red lentils should also work beautifully in this for the same reason. In that case, I’d shift the spices in a more Indian or perhaps Ethiopian direction.
The herbs and spices can be swapped around fairly liberally. For example, if you don’t have fresh rosemary, you can substitute half a teaspoon of dried rosemary in the lentil-boiling step. Similarly, if you don’t have cinnamon sticks, you can use 4 or 5 whole allspice berries in the lentil-boiling step, and add 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the vegetables later in place of the ground allspice. I have also thrown in lemongrass stalks or strips of lemon peel for a citrusy note in past iterations. As long as you maintain the basic idea of contrasting a sweet spice against an assertive herb, you’ll be fine.
Half a batch of this hummus can be used to turn approximately half a package of wonton wrappers into four dozen ravioli. Of course, if you have access to or can make your own fresh pasta, so much the better.