Lentil Overload: Side and Soup

The word legume is derived from the Latin word legumen which is believed to come from the verb legere "to gather."  Well-known legumes include peas, beans, lentils, lupins, carob, soy, and peanuts.  For almost 6,000 years of human civilization, legumes have been an important source of protein and used when meat sources weren't available. Being a vegetarian, legumes are a great addition to my diet. 

These two recipes are wonderful.

The first comes from the Williams Sonoma Vegetarian cookbook.  We just got a boat load of red onion and red peppers in our CSA share, so this zippy little lentil salad is perfect for this week.  I also have left over feta cheese from the Pumpkin-Feta Muffins I made a few days ago.  Perfect! I'm a huge fan of the vinaigrette that coats the lentils.  Oh, it is yummy.  This side dish is also versatile: Baby Otis loves the lentil salad when it is pureed into a soup.  The lentils can also be added to noodles for a flavorful pasta salad.  You can try small white (navy), pinto or black beans if you want to change things up.  Fresh goat cheese can be substituted for the feta if you are craving something more creamy. 
The second recipe comes from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa series).  One of our closest friends Andrew's sister-in-law recommended this recipe and I can see why.  It's flavorful, rich and (as an added bonus) it uses our CSA leeks, onions, carrots, garlic and celery.  Like the Lentil Salad, it can be pureed if you desire a smoother consistency. It is also an easy protein-rich baby food...you know, if that's your thing. 
Lentil Salad with Red Pepper, Mint and Feta (Courtesy of Williams Sonoma Vegetarian)
1 cup (7 oz) dried lentils
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus vinegar to taste
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed and finely diced
1/4 cup (1/4 oz) chopped fresh mint, plus mint sprigs for garnish
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Rinse the lentils and drain, then transfer to a saucepan and add water to cover by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender, 15-20 minutes.  Remove from the heat, drain immediately and place in a bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, the 5 tablespoons of vinegar, garlic, cumin and salt and pepper to taste.  Add to the warm lentils and toss together to coat evenly.  Add the onion and bell pepper and gently.  Let stand for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Season to taste with more salt, pepper and vinegar, if necessary.  Add the mint and toss to mix well.  Add the feta (save a bit for garnish). Transfer to a platter or individual plates.  Garnish with mint sprigs.  Enjoy!
Serves 6

Ina Garten's Lentil Vegetable Soup (Courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa)
1 pound French green lentils
4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large onions)
4 cups chopped leeks, white part only (2 leeks)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus additional for drizzling on top
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups medium-diced celery (8 stalks)
3 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
3 quarts vegetable stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the vegetable stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Check the seasonings. (I had to add a little bit more salt.) Add the red wine and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan. 

Serves 8-10.