Last Monday I gave a talk on the history of vegetarian food, and the subject of my vegan dinner came up! So I thought I would take the opportunity to share the recipe with you, since so many have asked for it.
This is one of my favorite recipes for an easy, delicious supper - perfect for cold weather - and is often in rotation during the fall and winter months. I call it French Lentil Bowl because I used French green Puy lentils, and Dijon mustard vinaigrette, but also because lentils vinaigrette is an old-school French dish. I use lentils vinaigrette in a variety of salads and other dishes (notably one delicious, but very rich, recipe for creamed Dijon lentils with ham I found in the French Vegetable Cookbook by Patricia Bourne), so it's safe to say I'm a lentil fan (don't believe me? Try the lentilwurst). They're quicker and easier to cook from dried than beans and the green Puy lentils (black Beluga lentils also work well) have a hearty texture and peppery flavor that I just love. If you've only ever had lentils in the murky brown soup, give this recipe a try.
Vegan French Lentil Bowl Recipe
This recipe makes a lot, but also makes wonderful leftovers and reheats nicely. If the carrots and onions seem excessive, let me note that they are so delicious you will almost always regret not making more.
2 cups green/French lentils
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
1-2 cloves garlic (optional)
2 pounds carrots (baby carrots are fine)
3-4 red potatoes
3-4 yellow storage onions
extra virgin olive oil
ground black pepper
white wine vinegar
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Add the lentils, water, bay leaf, and garlic to a 2 quart pot, cover, and cook over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce to medium-low heat and continue cooking until the lentils are tender and all the water is absorbed (approximately 20 minutes).
While the lentils are cooking, wash and cut the carrots. If using full-size carrots, wash, peel, and cut into thick julienne. Pieces should be no larger than your pinky finger. If using baby carrots (I like the rainbow heirloom ones for color), wash and cut fat ones in quarters, medium ones in half, and leave the skinny ones. Toss in olive oil and arrange in a thin layer on a half sheet pan. Sprinkle with thyme and sea salt.
Then scrub and cut red potatoes into chunks about 1-2 inches square. I usually cut the potato in half lengthwise, then in half lengthwise again, then cross-cut into chunks. Toss with olive oil and arrange on a half sheet pan - it should take up about 2/3 of the space. Sprinkle with sea salt and add a few cloves of garlic to scent them, if you like. Then cut the root part off the onions, cut in half, remove the papery skin, and cut into finger-width slices. Toss with olive oil, a generous sprinkling of turmeric (1/2-1 tablespoon), sprinkling of black pepper, and arrange the onions on the remaining 1/3 of the baking sheet (you can do the tossing and stirring right on the baking sheet).
Pop both sheets into the oven for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile the lentils are probably done. In a largish bowl, add at least 3 tablespoons of olive oil, at least 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, and 1-2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard. Whisk with a fork until well-blended, then add your hot lentils (fish out the bay leaves and garlic and discard) and stir well to combine. Let rest until the vegetables are done - they'll keep their heat.
When the potatoes are tender, the onions melting, and the carrots browned and tender, pile about a half cup of each of the vegetables into a shallow bowl and serve hot. If you like, you can add a dollop of cold cottage cheese or some crumbles of goat cheese or feta on top, or garnish with toasted walnuts, but it's really delicious as-is.
It's also a great and inexpensive way to feed a crowd. To turn it into dinner party fare, I recommend starting with a salad of baby greens with sliced Bosc pears and a sprinkling of walnut oil and pear vinegar, and serving the lentil bowls with either whole grain toast or garlic bread. Finish with a very French cheese course or simple baked apples, fruit crisp, or custard dessert (like clafoutis).
This recipe is, of course, quite accidentally vegan. I did not develop it with the intent that it would be vegan, it just happens to be completely delicious without meat, eggs, or dairy. And since French food was all the rage during the First World War, I thought it a very apt addition to the Meatless Monday list. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! If you make this recipe, share your thoughts in the comments, or tell me your favorite lentil dish!
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.