As with eye cream and good wine, I didn’t begin to appreciate lentils until I got older. For a long time, their dull colors and mushy texture scared me. But I’ve come to realize that it’s exactly this — the mushiness — that gives lentils so much “swap potential” in the kitchen.
When boiled, lentils break down to form a creamy, thick puree (without a blender, people!) Which means they make a great mimic for dips, batters, and even pate.
Of course, you don’t have to turn lentils into mush. You can keep them firmer and toothier to add texture to stuffing in place of croutons or filling for tacos or burger patties in place of meat.
But I recently discovered my favorite lentil trick during the holidays: gravy.
I was tasked with the challenge of making a vegetarian, low-sodium, gluten-free gravy. Which sounds like a disaster or at least impossible, but this is exactly why lentils are so incredible.
With a little help from melted butter, garlic, mushrooms, and herbs, the lentil puree made a meaty, rich sauce that will fit pretty much any dietary bill (unless you are lentil intolerant). And it is so easy to make, that it might just become a new tradition for holidays (or poutines) to come.
Old Ingredients, New Tricks
As someone who constantly makes over dishes for dietary and health needs, I'm used to using total creative license when it comes to food. And the good news is we already live in a culinary world where zucchinis can be noodles, beets can be chips, and cucumbers can act like baguettes. So over these five days, let me be your guide as we dust off some standard items from the produce aisle and give them a chance to show off a little. It’s an exercise in recipe liberation (not limitations) that will not only lighten up those eating habits but also give new life to old favorites.
So whether you’re trying to ditch the gluten, sugar, or just a pant size this new year, let’s forget about pledging to take on a new diet. And let’s pledge instead to break some rules and teach a handful of old ingredients some new tricks.
(Image credits: Jessica Goldman Foung; Emma Christensen)