Monday, April 19, 2010

Caviar de la Croix Rousse (or awesome lentils)

Well. What a name! I am not sure where I first came across this recipe. And, in fact, the version presented here is just a mash-up of several lentil recipes rolling around in my noggin’ – the real version should be made with lardons, but I’m fresh out.

What I am sure of though, is that this is an AWESOME excuse to drink a bottle of Russian Imperial Stout (you know, those bottles of limited edition beer I am trying to save? – Cory, you better hurry!). Actually, this is a case of willful ignorance on my part, since La Croix-Rousse means russet cross and is a hill town in the region of France that this dish hails from – however, it sounds like Russian Cross, hence the beer.

This dish uses du Puy lentils (lentilles vertes du Puy). These are small, speckled and dark little lentils that originate in Puy France. This is inconsequential – the really neat thing here is that you get to make a TON of hilarious jokes while you cook and eat them. Jokes like, “These are the Puyest lentils I’ve ever eaten!” or “These lentils are Puy” or “Look, someone spilled some Puy lentils while they were making supper!” or even, "I better wash these Puy lentils!" You know, roll with it. Anyone around you will have a great excuse to roll their eyes, and you will have a great chance to laugh at your own jokes! (I heard that only crazy people laugh at their own jokes. I pretty much think you’re crazy if you don’t – I mean, if you don’t laugh, it isn’t funny, and not a joke. Right?!)

ANYWAY, here’s the recipe. It goes great with salmon as a side dish (or under the fish, so an under dish if you will). You’ll need some du Puy lentils (1 cup. Loeb used to carry them, maybe Metro does), a couple of shallots or a small onion, some cloves of garlic, some cloves (of cloves!), salt, pepper, oil, a lime, a carrot, some celery, and a few herbs like bay, thyme, and a sprig of parsley. My parsley in the garden is still pouting from a miserable winter, so I substituted sweet cicely instead (which isn’t pouting). Almost no one grows sweet cicely anymore (this plant is another of my acquisitions from my time as the period gardener at Bellevue House National Historic Site). It has a (surprise!) sweet taste with a hint of licorice – they used to use if for sugar in preserves. What’s really cool is that the little seeds are just like candy when they first start forming. I can set you up with a plant if you stop by in the fall – the seeds need to be sown before winter or you get nada. (Pardon the digression, back to the food.)

First you need to get a base going. Finely chop the carrot, celery, and one of the shallots (or half a small onion). Don’t leave the chunks too big – the lentils will discolour the carrots, and they’ll look gross if they’re too large.

Gently fry the vegetables in olive oil until they are browning a little. Depending on your heritage, this is a sofrito, soffritto, battuto, mirepoix, or mess-o-finely-chopped-carrots-onion-and-celery.

While your mirepoix is cooking (French lentils) you can clean the lentils. Measure them first (1 cup), then pour them into your hand bit by bit to check for stones and foreign grains, and then dump them into a fine sieve. Give them a quick rinse and add them to the mirepoix with three cups of water.

Smash a couple of cloves of garlic. Add them and the herbs too.

And then prepare your fat clove friend! Stick several cloves (I used 8) into a peeled shallot (or half a small onion). This may seem a little frou-frou, but it is important because the only way you’ll ever find the cloves when the dish is done is by biting into one while you’re eating (no fun). The shallot keeps them all in one place, but lets them flavour the lentils.

Add your herbs and a dash of salt. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and let them simmer away gently for about 35-40 minutes. (Warning – it will smell wonderful!) Test a couple to make sure they're tender before you turn off the heat.

Towards the end of cooking time, prepare a vinaigrette. Fifty-fifty oil and lime juice (with a little more 50 on the oil), salt, pepper, and (since this is Russian!) a little mustard.

Use a nice grainy mustard for this.

Whisk that up. Drain your lentils (don't rinse, just drain: you’ll need a fine sieve) and remove the clove buddy and the herbs.

Add your vinaigrette and combine gently.

Then serve up and enjoy!! They look like caviar, and they’re REALLY good – hot or cold. The mustard makes it, or maybe it’s the cloves.

Bon appetit!


  1. Mmmm!! Looks awesome, gotta try it! I love the cloved shallot buddy...and my favorite is always the part right before: ANYWAY...!! :]

  2. Thanks, Brandy. That means a lot coming from a real arteest!