Cleaning out the cupboards the other day, I ran across an unopened bag of boring American brown lentils that I’d bought before I discovered the luxury of Du Puy and Beluga lentils. They must have been sitting in my cupboard collecting dust for about 8 months, buried behind cans of diced tomatoes and half-empty bags of rice. They don’t stand a chance at getting used in a lentil soup or salad anytime soon, not as long as there are half-empty bags of Du Puys and Belugas sitting next to them.
I remembered Madhur Jaffrey having a few recipes involving lentil sprouts in her wonderful World Vegetarian cookbook, so I googled lentil sprouts and found that all that is involved in sprouting them is a bowl, some water, and a few days patience. Without checking the yield of a given quantity of dry beans, I dumped the entire one pound bag into a large bowl, covered it with water to rinse, drained, and then covered with water to soak for 12 hours. When I came back to drain them, oh goodness, they had already swollen at least twice their volume. Hrmm, maybe this would be a bit much in the way of lentil sprouts for two people! But it was too late now, and I went ahead with the sprouting, which consisted of draining the lentils and setting the bowl in a warmish, bright-but-not-direct-sunlight spot for three days, stopping by to rinse and drain the lentils three times per day.
According to the internets, the lentils are best consumed after two or three days, when they have sprouted 1/2 to 3/4 inch little tails.
I don’t have a photo of the plain sprouts for you right now, but I’ll post one in the morning. I tried them raw, and they are nice that way, if a bit too crunchy and sharp for my tastes. They would probably be lovely in a well-dressed salad, which I’m sure I’ll have the chance to try with the 92791653874 cups of lentils in the fridge, but tonight I decided to get creative and use them in pasta.
I sliced two brown onions, tossed them in a pan with plenty of olive oil, and cooked them over medium heat until they were soft. Then I added an entire head’s worth of chopped garlic, the zest of a lemon, a generous pinch of salt, and reduced the heat. I allowed the garlic and onion to slowly, gently cook and infuse the olive oil with their sweetness and aroma. (This bit is actually inspired by a fabulous Rick Bayless shrimp dish that my mom made last night, and which I’ll post about when I get the photos off of her camera.) Cooking garlic this way is a fantastic trick. It brings out the inherent sweetness of the garlic, and, since the heat is so low, none of the bitterness.
I sauteed the lentil sprouts in the garlic-onion oil, and then wilted a bag of spinach and a bag of arugula with it. I tossed this with tagliatelle, the juice of the lemon, and a generous grating of pecorino romano. The result was a delicious, unusual, and healthy pasta, though as I was grating the cheese, I thought that some toasted pine nuts would have been the perfect finish. Next time, perhaps.
Pasta with Lemon, Lentil Sprouts, and Wilted Greens
6 tbs olive oil*
2 brown onions, sliced
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb tagliatelle or linguini
3 cups lentil sprouts
10 oz fresh baby spinach
6 oz fresh baby arugula
2 oz pecorino romano cheese, grated, plus more for serving
*This probably seems like a lot of oilve oil, but this makes a lot of pasta and you really need plenty of oil to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Besides, the oil and the cheese are the only fat in the dish.
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.
In a different large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onions have softened. Add the garlic and zest the lemon over the pot. Add a generous pinch of salt and reduce the heat to very, very low. The goal is to infuse the oil with the flavors of the lemon, garlic, and onions, so you want the oil to just barely bubble. If the heat is too high, the garlic will become bitter.
Add the pasta to the pot of water. About 7 minutes before it is cooked, add the lentil sprouts to the pan with the onions and garlic, and raise the heat to medium. Cook until the lentil sprouts are just tender, about 3 minutes. Add a ladel of pasta water, and then add the spinach and arugula in batches, waiting for the bit you’ve added to wilt so there’s room for the rest. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
When the pasta is just cooked, use tongs to transfer it to the pot with the vegetables. Add the juice of the lemon and the 2 oz of grated pecorino romano, and toss. If the pasta appears dry, add a bit of pasta water or even a glug of oilve oil. Serve immediately, passing extra pecorino romano on the side.
Serves 4-6 as a main course.