Cowgirl Lentils


Before I moved to Paris, I’d made lentils. Lots of times, in fact. I loved lentils, especially with a little splash of red wine vinegar on them right before serving. (How exotic! How daring I was!)

But I didn’t really know lentils. Not like I do now.

A few years ago, in the late fall, Xavier and I went to a little bistro in the 6th arrondisement and he ordered up lentils and sausage — the most plain Jane thing you could ever imagine– but it was absolutely divine.

These weren’t your ordinary flat, brownish lentils. Nosirreebob. They were the prized, green lentilles du Puy, the gold standard by which all other lentils are judged, and the very same lentils that my Gascony cowgirl buddy Kate Hill used for her Gascon-style lentils and sausage, that I wrote about awhile back (but did not fully explain the significance of, which I’m about to do right now).

The lowdown on the lentilles du Puy: grown in the Auvergne region in the middle of France, near the volcanic Le-Puy-en-Velay area, these babies have a distinct sweet flavor from the mineral-rich soil in which they’re grown. They also have less starch than ordinary lentils, which helps them keep their cute little shape oh so nicely.

Naturally, all of this goodness comes at a price – lentilles du Puy are AOC protected (like Champagne, Sancerre, and Roquefort), meaning that the government will smack down any other little green legume claiming its name – and they’ll set you back about twice that of ordinary lentils.

I’m here to tell you that they’re worth it. Find ‘em, buy ‘em, cook ‘em up, and you, too, will know true legume love.

These are a great veggie dish on their own, but also work as a great nesting spot for salmon, smoked sausage, or whatever else you’re in the mood for.

Cowgirl Lentils
Serves 8-10

1 pound lentilles du Puy, rinsed
1 medium onion, 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, 1/4-inch dice
1 stalk celery, 1/4-inch dice
1 16 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon ancho chile powder
32 oz water, chicken or vegetable stock
sea salt
olive oil

1. Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a heavy stockpot, add onions and garlic, and turn the heat to medium-low. Let cook until the onions become translucent, about 5-10 minutes.

2. Add carrots and celery, and let cook for about 5 minutes or until they just begin to soften.

3. Now add everything else, cover, and turn the heat up to medium. Cook until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 40-45 minutes.