I did not intend this recipe to be my New Year’s post, but it’s fitting to greet 2015 with a lentil dish since these little legume orbs are considered a sign of prosperity in some cultures, signifying good luck as the next year arrives.
It’s also fitting, in my opinion, to start a new calendar with a dish that’s full of colour and flavour, as a promise of a vibrant, joyful year ahead.
And, what better way to ring in another year than with food that not only symbolizes prosperity and provides a vibrant feast for the eyes, but is also nutritious? After all, it’s customary to wish others good health at New Year’s, so why not serve it up on a plate?
A few months ago I came across a recipe for beet-braised lentils with thyme and apples on the blog Simple Bites and found myself intrigued by the combination of beets and lentils. I haven’t made this recipe, but it inspired me to experiment with braised lentils combined with hearty fall vegetables, namely beets and butternut squash. What I’ve come up with is delicious and quite different from the braised lentils I’ve made in the past. This current recipe, being a truer braise, has the virtue of a long period in the oven, during which time I’m free to putter about. I enjoy all types of cooking, but there’s a special place in my heart for any meal I can “make” while I’m ensconced in my favourite armchair with a good book.
I’ve made it three times now, and can advise with assurance that while this dish looks attractive with golden beets (which have the advantage of not staining your hands), and stunning with red beets, you should avoid using candy cane (chioggia) beets. While their rings of red and white look lovely in a salad, the braise came out an unappealing muddy colour when I used them. It still tasted good, but on the principle that we eat with our eyes first, go with the red, or the gold if you want less of a mess to contend with.
Just look at the riot of colour in the skillet on the stovetop; if that’s not a vibrant way to welcome a new year, I don’t know what is!
I also tried using finely chopped beets, but the result was not as good as when I shredded them. Shredded beets almost melt into the braise resulting in a pleasing texture. Little beet cubes, uh-uh, not so much.
The final bit of wisdom I have to pass on to you is that if you’re at all faint of wrist, as I am, use a food processor if you can to shred the beets and squash. Despite knowing better, I shredded these super-hard vegetables on a box grater and paid dearly for my efforts.
I’ve made the braise with green French lentils and brown lentils, and suggest that any green or brown variety would do. I haven’t tried it with beluga lentils, and wonder if they would retain their inky blackness, in which case the dish would look even more stunning. Hmmm. I sense an experiment coming on, as soon as I finish this post, in fact.**
I’m looking forward to making this dish for my New Year’s dinner today. And yes, I’m going to take my own advice and haul my food processor out of the cupboard in the basement. If company of the carnivorous variety were coming, I might serve the jewel-toned lentil dish with a side (yes, I said side) of pork, perhaps sausages or a roasted loin (pork is also considered good luck for the new year in some circles). On its own, as long as you use vegetable stock, this is a most hearty and satisfying vegan entree that will have any omnivore asking for seconds.
Wishing you a healthy, vibrant, joyous and prosperous New Year, with lots of deliciousness on your plate every day.
Braised Lentils, Beets & Squash
This is the kind of recipe that’s easily variable, depending on what you have on hand. If you don’t have fresh herbs, you can substitute dry. I don’t keep dried parsley in my kitchen, but perhaps a teaspoon of dried basil would be a flavourful substitute. I suspect I may be trying that today because, having lost track of things over the holidays, my supply of fresh herbs may be meagre or non-existent at this point. Also, I always consider amounts of vegetables to be guidelines: after all, I’m not going to cut a piece out of a beet just to get a precise measurement. Just use roughly the same weight of beets and squash and call it a day.
**(Quick update, having just checked the seasoning and added the wine into tonight’s dinner: the beluga lentils fade to a dark brown, so the visual effect isn’t worth the extra expense, in my opinion.)
Pre-heat the oven to 350℉.
- 1 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 stalks celery, cut in 4 lengthwise and then sliced thinly
- 1 red chile pepper, seeded and minced
- about 1 lb red or golden beets, coarsely shredded
- about 1 lb butternut squash, coarsely shredded
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup lentils (brown or green)
- 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (chop the stems and add separately)
- 1/4 cup white wine
In an oven-proof skillet or braising dish heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery and chile pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Add the shredded beets and squash, and the parsley stems if using. Cook for another five minutes or so, stirring from time to time. Add the stock, lentils and fresh herbs (or dried, if substituting) and stir well.
Cover the skillet or dish and put into the oven. After 30 minutes, taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Stir in the white wine and put back into the oven, uncovered, for another 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
To serve, garnish with additional chopped parsley.