As soon as we left Tim’s birthday lunch at Table 3 last week, we began plotting ways to re-create part of our appetizer: the savory lentils beneath our crispy duck confit. I am telling you, these lentils were something else: soft but not mushy, loaded with flavor, concrete proof that lentils will take on the character of whatever you mix them with.
It kind of cracked me up the way were talking about it—Was that tarragon, or was it thyme? Did you catch that little bit of sweetness in the beginning? The oil is just right!—because, seriously, for as long as I can remember, this has been something my mom does: she loves the lamb stew she orders at a restaurant, so the next day she’s buying lamb at the meat counter. I make her a crustless quiche, so she’s blending eggs and spinach the very day she gets back home.
And I guess that makes me my mother’s daughter because, even beyond the lentils, I’ll be darned if half our wedding wasn’t the result of someone else’s great idea on Pinterest. The unmatching vintage plates? Something I saw on a blog or in a magazine. The banquet-style tables? Something someone else did, too. Now, from the burlap wreath on our front door to the way our dining chairs don’t match, I’m always pulling from someone else’s concept, riffing on it to make it my own.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s any real creativity possible in the world—I draw inspiration from so many sources and places; is it even possible to come up with ideas without it?
As for these lentils: by the time we’d left our afternoon movie, we’d narrowed down most of the ingredients we thought we’d tasted, and so we picked them up at the store. I kept telling Tim how great it would be to get this recipe right because lentils are so cheap and so simple and yet they’re one of those foods I’ve always been a little intimidated by, as if making them well was reserved for the Really Good Cook.
So here is what we did. Saturday, I soaked the lentils overnight; yesterday morning, Tim cooked them in water and set them aside. Then, in the afternoon, in the course of maybe 20 minutes total, we set to work: heating oil, adding tomatoes and almonds and thyme, combining this mixture with the lentils and topping the whole thing with goat cheese.
I think the first words out of my mouth were something like, They’re just like those lentils!
And this, while maybe not a mark of creativity, in my mind was a real success.
French Lentils with Tomatoes, Marcona Almonds & Goat Cheese
Inspired by Table 3
Serves two as an entree; four as a side
On soaking lentils: As mentioned in the above post, we soaked the lentils overnight before using them in this recipe. Because lentils are typically easier to digest than grains, soaking them is not necessary, but it can be helpful. Tim says he’s noticed he always feels better when he soaks them ahead of time. If you do choose to soak them, a good rule of thumb is to cover the lentils with water and add a little bit of acid (such as lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or whey); then, if they absorb all the water quickly, add more. Strain before cooking.
6-8 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 cup of chopped organic grape tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped, salted marcona almonds
1 1/2 cups cooked French lentils*
2 to 3 ounces of goat cheese
Heat a glug or two of olive oil in a large saucepan on the stove. As the pan raises to medium heat, add in the leaves of six to eight sprigs of fresh thyme. Add tomatoes and almonds, and cook until the tomatoes are soft and you can smell the nuts roasting.
Pull off the heat and add the cooked lentils, stirring everything together in the pan. Let cool a bit. Add goat cheese (I like to slice it up a little, but you could add whole and just stir throughout—it will slightly melt into the lentils).