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Le Puy lentils are small, nearly black, and, when uncooked, hard as little stones. Unlike green lentils or red lentils, these French ones don’t burst when boiled, meaning they’re nearly impossible to overcook and they just about always keep their firm, toothsome texture. Their earthy taste gets even better when they simmer with spices. If you try to season them—or any beans—only after they’re cooked, it’s hard to get flavor into them. Seasoned Le Puy lentils, however, are good enough to eat by the spoonful alone and even better when turned into soups or stews with the addition of vegetables. I also like stirring them into grains for a salad or grain bowl, or eating them alongside pork with mustard and vinegar, as I did when I was a young cook in France.
In this master recipe, limon omani adds a citrus note to brighten the earthy taste of the lentils. Garlic, celery seeds, and mustard seeds make these lentils work with any meal, but they’re special alongside French ones in particular.
Lior Lev Sercarz, from Mastering Spice
1 whole limon omani (dried Persian lime; 4 grams)
1 tablespoon dried garlic slices (5 grams)
1⁄2 teaspoon celery seeds (1 gram)
11⁄4 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds(6 grams)
1 teaspoon Urfa pepper (2 grams)
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
11⁄4 cups French Le Puy lentils (8 ounces)
Crack and crush the limon omani into smaller pieces by pressing it against a cutting board with the palm of your hand and transfer to a spice grinder along with the garlic. Finely grind them together and immediately mix with the whole celery seeds, mustard seeds, and Urfa.
To make the lentils: Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with oil (2 to 3 tablespoons). Set over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the spice blend. Cook, stirring continuously, until sizzling, about 30 seconds. Add the onion, season with salt, and stir well. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until barely tender, about 3 minutes; you want the carrot to keep a nice bite. Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute, then add the lentils and stir for 1 minute.
Add 3 cups cold water, raise the heat to high, and stir in the remaining spice blend. Bring to a boil, then season to taste with salt. Cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring and seasoning with salt occasionally (so the lentils are seasoned and cook evenly), until the lentils are just tender, about 45 minutes. (There should be only a tiny bit of liquid left in the pan.) Season to taste with salt and serve.