When you think of Spanish cuisine you don’t think of lentils! When you go to a Spanish restaurant you don’t see lentils on the menu. However, if you have ever lived or spent a significant amount of time in Spain one thing you’ve learned is that lentils are indeed the real (albeit undeclared ) national dish. Really, its true. Its not even in the top 10 of national dishes. But everyone eats lentils and every family has their own recipe. I imagine that they have always been inexpensive and that, during the times of the Franco Dictatorship, for the poor, this was the daily staple. Maybe this is why they don’t flaunt it as their real national dish. But in everyday Spanish life, lentils are essential.
Lentils are cheap, very nutritious, super high in protein, and delicious. They are also very easy to prepare. I got on the lentil-eating train before I came to Spain, when I was living in Costa Rica, but admittedly, I had decided to learn how to prepare them because of a Spanish friend of mine made me curious because she was always eating lentils! They looked so healthy and yummy I wondered, would I like them? When my Spanish friends saw me preparing lentils they were surprised.
Well, I love them and they are now a part of my regular diet. The nice thing about them is you can always change up the recipe, eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with eggs, with rice, with veggies, avocado (yum) or on their own.
A lot of people like to add chorizo or bacon to the recipe. I do sometimes, but not often. I like them with a bit of seasonal veggies and seasoned a little spicy. I love them with a fried egg for breakfast, especially when its a hard day of work ahead, they are incredibly sustaining.
I recommend trying out this recipe and then adding your own spin to it. Once you know how easy it is you will likely get a little creative with it each time you do it. The recipe below is for one person and this will last me for 2 days. Sometimes I make a bigger pot and it will last me Monday through Thursday and then I know I am eating healthy and on the cheap. So without further ranting about it… here is a typical variation of my personal recipe:
Lentils, 1 onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1 leek, 1 small bunch of bush beans (substitute your preferred seasonal vegetable, i.e. cauliflower, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, fennel.
Spices: 1 Bay leaf, dash of paprika, dash of cumin, fresh ginger, red chili flakes, black pepper. (I like this blend of spices but you can also add sage, smoked paprika, rosemary, fresh turmeric, thyme.)
Olive oil (I once made this recipe without oil for a friend who was allergic, I simply used water for the sauté process and they turned out great.)
1/2 cup of Beer (I love cooking with alcohol but this is not necessary. You can simply just add water. Wine is too astringent for this recipe and I find the beer adds a richness while helping blend the flavor into the lentils. )
Optional: Chopped chorizo bits or bacon
Soak a handful or so of lentils in a bowl of water for anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours. (If longer than a day, you’ll need to change the water and don’t be surprised if they begin to sprout. They are still fine to cook with just a slight sprout peaking out and in fact some people argue its even more nutritious)
- Sauté in olive oil the onions, garlic, leeks, ginger in a large pot until onions are glassy. If you are adding in Chorizo or Bacon, add it in now and sauté it with the veggies.
- When the veggies are sizzling and perhaps even begin to brown a bit, drain the lentils and add them in. Give them a stir and and then add in the beer. Stir.
- Now is the moment to add your spices and salt. Stir. Smell. Stir some more.
- Add in 4 cups of water and let simmer with the lid on for about 45-60 min. (If the lentils are al dente you can always add in more water. If you want less water, remove the lid and simmer on low and let the water steam out.) Enjoy!