In fact, I love reader requests! When you ask if I can help with something or provide you with a recipe for a favorite or unfamiliar ingredient, I am reminded that 1) we have an active, interactive relationship, and 2) you trust what I have to say. Who wouldn’t love that? Keep them coming, please.
Last week, after I wrote about my son’s birthday dinner, one of my readers (Stephanie) asked if I could post the recipes for our side dishes of lentils and brussels sprouts. Happy to do so. A caveat: Both recipes include bacon and call for something being cooked in bacon fat. These were birthday dishes; we go a little overboard on birthdays. But just a little – the amount of bacon and fat are small compared to the larger quantities of healthier ingredients.
I also look for really good, ethically and locally raised, small farm bacon. You’ll pay more, but it’s worth it. And as I said above, you don’t need much. All that said, if you don’t eat any kind of bacon for any reason, you don’t have to include it in these recipes. I’ll provide alternate preparation ideas.
Let’s start with the lentils.
Lentils may be best known as a staple of a healthy and well-balanced vegetarian diet. And yes, lentils are good for us: naturally low in fat but full of protein, fiber, and iron, lentils make for satisfying eating as either complete main courses or nutritious side dish alternatives to white flour pastas, white rice, or potatoes.
The lentil, a legume with many varieties, is also versatile. Red lentils cook quickly and cook up soft. They work well in daal, the spicy porridge of stewed lentils common to India. Brown lentils get tender quickly too, and make rib-sticking vegetable- or meat-based soups. The small, speckled green-to-slate blue lentils, the lentilles de Puy, are firmer and hold their shape when cooked. They are at their toothsome best served lukewarm, at room temperature, or chilled in salads.
Best of all, though, lentils are delicious. No food would be so prized by so many cultures and cuisines if it weren’t delicious, and lentils deliver with a complex, naturally smoky and musky flavor; the nutritional value and versatility are added bonuses.
Bacon enjoys great popularity right now and, under the “bacon makes everything taste better” banner, can seem to turn up in every dish– sometimes even where it doesn’t belong. It’s no stretch, though, to marry lentils with bacon. Lentils and bacon together in the right amounts partner naturally, the meat bringing out – without overwhelming – the best of the lentils’ peat smoke characteristics.
- 3 strips thick-cut uncured bacon, cut into small rectangles
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 slender carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 1 cup green (also known as French or Lentilles de Puy) lentils
Cook bacon pieces in large heavy skillet until crisp.
Over moderate heat, sauté the onion in the bacon fat until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add carrots and celery and cook just until they lose their crispness. You don’t want soft, and you definitely don’t want mushy. Remove from heat and set aside.
Rinse well 1 cup French green lentils (common brown lentils may be substituted if green are unavailable) under cold water and pick them over to remove any stones or debris.
Fill a medium saucepan two-thirds full with cold water. Add lentils to water along with 1 tsp. of salt. Bring to a boil then simmer lentils until tender but not mushy. Begin to taste check after 10 minutes, and every 5 minutes after that. Finished lentils should be al dente, retaining their shape, and not mushy. Green lentils will take a little longer to cook than brown, so if using brown check often. While lentils are cooking, make this simple vinaigrette:
- ¼ cup light oil, such as a light olive oil or grapeseed oil
- 1 ½ Tbsp. balsamic or red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- ½ clove garlic, minced and flatted with your knife into a paste
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
Combine all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well to blend. Set aside.
To assemble the lentil side dish:
When lentils are finished cooking, drain them completely and place them in a good size bowl to cool for a couple of minutes. Add to the warm lentils the sautéed vegetables.
Then add the reserved crisp bacon. Toss once or twice to combine, then add a tablespoon or two of vinaigrette and toss gently again. The dish should not need salt (both the bacon and dressing are salty enough) but add pepper to taste if desired.
(Variation: Omit bacon and bacon fat, and cook your vegetables in 1 Tbsp. good quality olive oil instead. Proceed with the recipe as otherwise directed.)
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
This isn’t so much a recipe as a method. And it’s a method I lit on a few years ago in order to free the humble sprout from its bad reputation. Yes, there is a gene present in some humans that makes them sensitive to the bitter chemical in cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts. But I think (and this is only anecdotal observation not quantifiable fact) most people aren’t genetically sensitive. Most people dislike sprouts because the sprouts they eat haven’t been cooked right. As with cabbage, overcooked sprouts stink up the house. Texture suffers too.
The choux de Bruxelles is a gorgeous little thing; a mini, lively green, tightly furled cabbage, it deserves better treatment. It deserves a diner’s appreciation.
Try them this way – not boiled at all but cooked from raw shreds – and you may make converts out of the sprout-averse. Kids eat Brussels sprouts when I cook them this way. Eat them and love them and request them for their birthday dinners. Reason enough to try.
Sorry no photos for these.
For the sprouts:
- about 2 pounds of Brussels sprouts
- 3-4 strips of thick-cut, uncured bacon, cut into small rectangles (as described above)
Prepare the sprouts by trimming a small piece off the stem end. Remove a layer of the outer leaves as necessary (if spotted or marked or tired looking). Working in batches, feed the sprouts into the feed tube of a food processor that has been fitted with a slicing disc. Shred the sprouts as you would shred cabbage for cole slaw. Place in a bowl or on a cutting board and set aside. (Shredding can also be done on a box grater or mandoline.)
Cook the bacon pieces over medium high heat, stirring often, until crisped. Remove the pieces to paper towel to drain. Leave 1-2 Tbsp. of bacon fat in the pan and add the shredded sprouts. Cook until the shreds start caramelizing around the edges and are slightly tender. Do not overcook. Cooking time for the greens will be about 5 minutes, maybe slightly more. Add the bacon pieces back to the pan, toss, and serve the side dish immediately.
(Variation: Heat 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil in the skillet set over medium heat. Add to it one thinly sliced onion or 3 thinly sliced shallots. Cook the onions until caramelized. Remove the onions from the pan, add the shredded sprouts and cook as directed above. To finish, return the onions or shallots back to the pan in place of the bacon, and serve immediately.)
©2011 Jane A. Ward