We’ve all been told to eat more lentils — whether it was that old saying that "They’ll make you smarter!" or modern health experts praising the power of legumes. You may have already experimented with using lentils to make terrific soups, stews, and salads, but how about a dish that more closely resembles risotto, with flavors cooked into the lentils much like rice?
There’s one thing that separates lentils from the types of short-grain rices used in risotto: they don’t release any starches, as rice does, so you don't get the same creamy consistency. To make up for it, we’ll just add a touch of cream at the end of cooking to add some extra richness and creaminess.
Since this dish is so healthful — packed with plant-based protein and fiber from the lentils, and topped with an elegant bundle of vitamin-rich greens — you can afford to coddle it with some butter, too. This works great as a vegetarian entrée if you’re entertaining, or for going meatless more often without sacrificing protein.
Tomato-Braised Lentils with Broccoli Rabe
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion (or shallots), finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups green French lentils
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups stock (chicken or vegetable), plus some extra if needed
1 large bunch (or 2 small bunches) broccoli rabe
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
Handful fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Sweat the onions over low heat for about 8 minutes until translucent, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the minced garlic and cook another minute. Add the lentils, tomato paste and a splash of the stock. Increase heat to medium and stir occasionally until stock has been absorbed. Continue adding stock and stirring occasionally until the lentils are just tender, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a separate pot of water to boil and prepare a large ice bath. Drop the broccoli rabe in the boiling water and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with tongs and immediately place into ice bath until cool. Drain and pat dry. In a separate pan or skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sliced garlic clove and the broccoli rabe. Season with salt and pepper and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the chopped tomato to the lentils and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cream and butter, and taste for seasoning when warm. Stir in the basil leaves, then serve immediately with the sauteed broccoli rabe on top.
(Image credits: Kimberley Hasselbrink)