Thursday, December 17, 2009

Golden Lentils and Crispy Matsutakes

On the menu tonight: lentils. We first considered making dal. Then I suggested French Puy lentils. When we got to the store, however, we took a gander at some of the other exciting options available. The two legumes that caught my eye were the black beluga lentils and the petite golden lentils, both from Zürson Beans. Neither of us had ever tried either one of the little legumes. We settled on the petite golden lentils, pictured below:

Let's talk a little bit 'bout lentils... Lentils need no pre-soaking and cook relatively quickly. To cook lentils, simply pick over to remove debris or shriveled lentils, rinse, and drain. Then cover with water or broth and boil for 2 to 3 minutes (to aid in digestion). Reduce heat and simmer until tender. Depending on the variety and age, cooking time may take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. Note that salt added to the cooking water will toughen the beans. You should only add salt once the lentils are completely cooked. Also, acidic ingredients such as wine or tomatoes can lengthen cooking time. You may wish to add these ingredients after the lentils have become tender. (lentil cooking tips from

These lil' lentils were fully cooked in about 10 minutes. As they were simmering, I sauteed sliced leeks, carrots and celery in a separate pan until soft. Then I added a couple of crushed garlic cloves, turned up the heat, and poured in some white wine. Finally, I sprinkled in some chopped herbs-parsley and sage-and plenty of sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Then stir this in to the lentils, and add more salt, pepper and/or oil to taste. To finish the dish, once I spread a portion of the lentils on the plate, I drizzled some black truffle infused olive oil over the top. I served a simple arugula salad beside the lentils, tossed in a white wine vinaigrette with diced cucumber and sliced red onions.

I had been searching for a way to cook the matsutake mushrooms that my friend Jean-Pierre gave me, and wanted to incorporate them in to tonight's meal, too. Matsutakes (aka Pine mushrooms) are prized by Japanese chefs and have a savory and pungent flavor. They have a meaty, chewy texture. The flavor of the larger matsutake mushrooms are intense, and unless the intensity is favorable to you, use sparingly. They are not Jean-Pierre's favorite mushrooms...which is one of the reasons he wanted me to play around with them, to see what I could come up with.

As chance would have it, the day he gave them to me was the day that the Top Chef season 6 finale aired. One of the ingredients in the mystery box for the final challenge guessed it, matsutake mushrooms. Michael Voltaggio, who ended up winning the competition, served a dashi-glazed rockfish topped with crispy matsutake for part of his second course. This was my inspiration; thinly sliced and pan-fried until crispy.

I decided to serve the mushrooms on a separate plate, because I didn't want their flavor to overpower those in the lentils. To a hot saute pan, I added a few tablespoons of olive oil. I added in the mushrooms, lowered the heat to medium and cooked until golden brown and crispy, occasionally giving them a toss to prevent them from burning. Once done, I placed them on paper towels to remove the excess oil and tossed them in some kosher sea salt. They were great! Crispy like a thin potato chip, but packed with that pungent, musty matsutake-ness. I did end up mixing some them into the lentils and they worked beautifully. The flavors were still balanced, and the mushrooms added complexity to the texture of the dish.

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