My friend Neil told me about them years ago. I’m a huge fan of all lentils, but these sounded exceptional, and I became determined to find them. To no avail. Neil lives in Germany, and it turns out that the Germans are several years ahead of us in lentil availability. I bought some urad dal, I thought it might be similar. Not so. Jump ahead a couple of years, and I found myself in Whole Foods. For me, Whole Foods is a forbidden land. Everything is too tempting and too beautiful and too expensive. I rarely go, and then only on precise pinpointed missions. I went this week to find golden beets (my new questing food!). Straight into produce, secure the beets, get out. But no – you have to walk all over the crazy store to get to the checkout. Of course I passed the castelvetrano olives. So pretty, so delicious. And then my greatest challenge. The bulk food aisle. Black rice! I haven’t had that since the Tibetan store closed down. The one with the nice man who used to give Malcolm little bags of black rice. Sigh. And then, a few bins down…BLACK BELUGA LENTILS!
As I walked to the checkout, grappling with all of my little bags of food and tubs of olives (I hadn’t gotten a basket. I wouldn’t need a basket, I was only buying one thing…) This recipe formed in my head. The colors! The flavors! The textures! We would have a sort of pilaf or warm salad, of black rice, black lentils, roasted golden beets, sauteed beet greens, castelvetrano olives and capers. (Malcolm’s first time knowingly eating a caper – he called them “flavor dynamite.”) All layered on a big plate of fresh baby spinach and topped with toasted hazelnuts. Part warm, part cool, a little smoky with Spanish paprika, a little sweet with oregano and basil, a little earthy with beets and sage. Finished with a tangy sweet balsamic and lots of black pepper. And rosemary roasted red bliss potatoes on the side. Delicious!
In the interest of keeping it ordinary, I should tell you that this would be very nice made with basmati rice and not-so-ugly-themselves french lentils and red beets.
I asked Neil to play guest DJ for this post. Here’s what he said…
“Recipe sounds big and brassy…so how about Bold and Black, an Eddie Harris composition played by Ramsey Lewis…from the album Another Voyage. Some smoky rhythm guitar, that sweet melody on Rhodes, and the wonderfully earthy drum riff which kicks off the groove section.” Perfect!!
1 cup black forbidden rice
1/2 t salt
1 T butter
1 1/2 cups water
Rinse and drain the rice. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Check every now and again to make sure nothing’s burning. After half an hour, taste to make sure the rice is soft, but still a little nutty and chewy. Take it off the heat and let it sit covered for a few minutes.
1 T olive oil
1 cup beluga lentils (or french!) (picked over, rinsed and drained)
2 bay leaves
1 shallot very finely minced
1 clove garlic, very finely minced
1/2 t sage
1/2 t rosemary
salt and plenty of pepper
In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the shallot, cook till it starts to brown. Add the garlic and the herbs. Cook for a few minutes. Add the lentils. Stir to coat, and cook for a few minutes. Then add about 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 25 minutes to half an hour. Till the lentils are soft, but still have some substance. Drain (you can save the water for broth, but it will be dark!).
3 medium-sized golden beets (or red!)
2 T olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425. Cut the stems off the beets, being careful not to damage the greens. Peel the beets. Cut them in half lengthwise, and then into half-moons about 1/4 inch wide. In a bowl toss them with olive oil and a pinch of sage. Spread them evenly and flatly on a baking sheet and roast in the oven till they’re soft and starting to brown, and a little crispy on the edges (20 minutes to half an hour). Take them out of the oven, and set them aside to cool and crisp a bit.
THE BEET GREENS
Beet greens and spinach to make 2 or 3 cups. Washed and well-chopped
2 T olive oil
1/2 t red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t basil
1 t oregano
1/2 t smoked paprika
1 t balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half.
Boil a pot of salted water. Add the beet greens. After a few minutes, add the spinach. Boil a few more minutes, then drain.
Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the pepper flakes, garlic and herbs. Fry till the garlic starts to brown, then stir in the greens and the cherry tomatoes. Cook till they’re coated, wilted, and still bright. Take off the heat. Stir in the balsamic, paprika, salt and plenty of pepper.
FOR THE OLIVES
1/2 cup castelvestrano olives, pitted and roughly chopped, 2 t capers.
Stir these together, and that’s it!
1/3 cup hazelnuts
Toast in the toaster oven. Rub to remove some of the papery skin. Chop roughly.
Stir together the rice and black lentils. (This recipe made quite a lot! You could save some of each to the side, or combine them and save some like that. Malcolm and I have big plans for the leftovers) While still hot, stir in 1/2 t smoked paprika, 1 t balsamic (or to taste) and 1 T butter. Add lots of ground pepper
On a large serving dish, spread a generous layer of washed baby spinach. Heap the rice and lentil mixture into the middle. Spread the greens and tomatoes over that. Place the roasted beets prettily on top of that. Spread a thin layer of olives and capers over that. Sprinkle toasted hazelnuts over the top.
We had a bowl of grated mozzarella, so people could spinkle some on if they liked. (We all liked!) and we had a plate of red bliss potatoes, cut into thinish wedges and roasted with rosemary and olive oil, along side. So nice altogether!!