After 4 months of being absent, I'm happy to say I've been inspired by (drum roll)....prunes. I know, really?! A good friend of mine and co-worker gave me a recipe for her favorite chicken which had prunes, vinegar, capers, and green olives...grossness. I only got this recipe after complaining about not being very inspired to cook lately and being lovingly questioned by others about when I was going to update the blog. After testing the recipe, I decided to write my bi-weekly column on her chicken that you can check out here.
So today, while the family was out geo-caching, I got a craving for Mario Batalli's lentils that I recently had at his restaurant, B & B Ristorante, in Las Vegas. His green lentils were served as a special that night and came with lamb sausage and balsamic reduction. Well, I wasn't going to make sausage today (maybe another day) but I did have the green lentils and balsamic vinegar. You're probably wondering how the prunes tie into this dish.
There they were.... a small bag of prunes (feel free to insert "dried plums" if that makes your face contort less with visions of grandmas) sitting on my counter from the recent chicken recipe. What's one to do with 5 prunes? So, I slivered them up and put them into the lentils once the veggies were tender and the water was added. They just simmered away and melted into the lentils. These lentils don't taste like Mario's, but hit all the flavor notes (minus the lamb): sweet, tangy, earthy, and meaty...a meal in itself or just a side to some roasted or seared chicken.
There are other people who use prunes at very fancy restaurants, like Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in California. There's a recipe in his cookbook where he uses a prune puree to layer with the Pommes Anna. We cooked this at work for a 14-course fundraiser dinner and served it with his ribeye recipe. No one had a clue what that delicious, creamy sweetness was swirling through those potatoes. It was only safe to tell them after they had eaten it to avoid that contorted face thing.
Who knew prunes could be such a perfect mystery ingredient for adding new dimensions of flavor to all kinds of things....well, at least three, that I know of so far.
Yield: 2 quarts
2 cups green lentils
3 carrots, chopped
1 celery rib, minced
1 shallot, minced
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 slices cooked bacon, chopped
1 Tbsp. oil
4-6 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
5 prunes, chopped
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the bacon, shallot, carrots, and celery. Cook until tender and then add the garlic. Add the water (saving 2 cups if the lentils become dry and are still undercooked), Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, prunes, and poultry seasoning. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the lentils are tender; about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar.