Hungry for meat? Eat this instead.

Now that I’m almost a year removed from eating it, I’m surprised at how infrequently I crave meat.  But it’s not that it’s completely unappetizing: Though I feel a little queasy when I think about eating a steak or chicken off the bone, I still sometimes miss the taste of a plate of buffalo wings, or a really nicely-cooked piece of lamb with a Chianti Classico.  It’s not often, but there are definitely times when I miss these things, usually after something else triggers the memory of eating them.

Fake meats generally do a poor job of replicating the experience.  They might look and feel like meat, but the essential goodness of the taste is missing.  Meat has a depth of flavor that I have yet to get from a soy imitation.

Fake meat meets its match

But there are ways to get close to that deep flavor, and today’s recipe succeeds in doing so as well as any other vegetarian meal I’ve had.  What’s more, this wine-braised lentil stew served over toast actually provides many whole-food nutrients, something that imitation meats rarely do.

Lentils are great poor-person food — they’re cheap, packed with nutrition, and they contribute their own earthy flavor in addition to absorbing the flavors they’re cooked with.  This recipe, from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers (my featured cookbook this week), uses green or black lentils rather than the standard brown, and elevates the simple ingredient to fancy-food status.  Like so many other recipes in Deborah’s cookbook, this one’s fit for company, even the carnivorous kind.

The lentil stew is braised in red wine for about 40 minutes, but the rest of the cooking is simple and can be done while the lentils simmer.  Forty minutes will cook off most of the alcohol in wine, but just to be on the safe side and not start our unborn baby on the bottle too early, I used alcohol-free wine for the cooking.  I drank a glass of the wimp wine,  too, and boy did it suck.  Talk about “essential goodness” being missing!  I can’t believe I used to drink this swill when I gave up alcohol for three months before a marathon, sort of just to prove to myself that I wasn’t addicted to a nightly glass of wine or beer.  For the record, the brand is fre — I guess it’s pronounced “fray,” as in ‘fraid not.

Anyway, unlike the wine, this dish is fantastic.  My sister and mom loved it when I made it for them a long time ago, and Erin and I liked it even more this time, when we made the vegan version and “splurged” for the green lentils (the term is relative; we’re talking about lentils here).

Here’s the recipe, printed with Deborah Madison’s permission.  Note she does not recommend terrible, alcohol-free wine.  I should have bought the Barbera.

Wine Braised Lentils over toast with spinach and red pearl onions

Serves 4

This may not be usual fare, but lentils over toast make a delicious winter supper, especially when they’ve been cooked in wine.  Butter is very good with lentils, so use some to finish them before serving.  Or use walnut oil, which is not only delicious, it makes the dish vegan.

Serve with a medium-bodied red wine with balanced fruit, acidity, and earthiness. A Barbera from the Piedmont or a Croze-Hermitage from the Rhone, make a good match with earthy lentils.

Cook the lentils first. Prepare the greens and the onions while the lentils are cooking, combine them at the end, and serve.

  • 3/4 cup French green or black “caviar” lentils, cleaned and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup each diced onion, carrot, and celery
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, 1 crushed, 1 halved
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 12 small red pearl onions
  • 1 tablespoon butter or walnut oil, to taste
  • 4 slices sturdy country bread
  • 1 big bunch spinach or other greens, such as Tuscan kale, leaves only, washed

1.  Parboil the lentils for 5 minutes and drain.

2.  Heat I tablespoon of the oil in a 2 or 3-quart saucepan.  Add the diced vegetables and cook over medium-high heat for several minutes, browning them a bit.  Add the crushed garlic, mash the tomato paste into the vegetables, then pour in the wine and stir in the mustard.  Add 1 1/2 cups water, the drained lentils, and 1-teaspoon salt.  Simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

3. While the lentils are cooking, blanch the pearl onions in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain.  Peel off the outer layer, then put them in a pan with the rest of the olive oil and cook over medium heat, sliding them in the pan now and then, until tender and beginning to color. Add a splash of wine or water towards the end and deglaze the pan. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Wilt the spinach in a skillet in the water clinging to its leaves, season with salt and pepper.  (Tuscan kale will take about 7 minutes.)  Stir the cooked greens into the lentils, add a tablespoon of butter or the walnut oil, taste again and season with salt, if needed, and pepper.

5.  Make the toast and rub it with garlic.  Cut each piece in thirds and arrange them on the plates.  Spoon the lentils over the toast and garnish with the onions.

Alright, I’m out.  More snow’s a’comin’, so I’m going to try to log in some miles today while I can, even though I’m still recovering from a killer speed workout yesterday.  I’m need to get back in 3:10 shape before I even think about 3:00 shape!  I also wrote a new Running Shorts post yesterday, about how to keep from getting bored while you’re running.  Not usually a problem for speed workouts, but on long runs, boredom is my mortal enemy.

And as I finish this post, I’m polishing off the last of my raw chia energy bar stash.  Time to make more!



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  1. Yum, I love lentils! Thanks for sharing the recipe. I have not had meat in 6 months and find that I rarely crave it. Sometimes I’ll think something smells good but the thought of actually eating it (and sometimes even seeing it) grosses me out.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Everything…almost =-.

  2. This looks like such a filling and delicious meal! Love that the bread gets to soak up all the goodness. I love those little onions.

    In terms of fake meat- I could agree- MOST of the time. I have tried the Gardein chicken tenders recently though and they are incredible! Review here:
    Even my carnivore husband loved them!
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Sunday Brunch & Vegan Banana Chip Muffins =-.

    • Erica, yeah the onions were my favorite part! As for fake meat, great pictures in your Gardein review. I tried it too but haven’t written a review yet. Although I liked it and thought the texture was PERFECT, I thought there was still something missing in terms of flavor… but the best I’ve yet had. Mine didn’t get brown and crispy like yours though; that would have helped!

  3. I love lentils! Especially in the form of vegan “snobby joes”. Mmm, so good.
    .-= Megan (The Runner’s Kitchen)´s last blog ..If you can chop vegetables, you can make this recipe =-.

  4. Yum. This sounds soooo good, great comfort food!
    .-= Heather (Where’s the Beach)´s last blog ..Tuesday Trumps Monday =-.

  5. That looks exquisite, I love lentils. I haven’t really missed meat during all these years. Once in a great while I miss chicken, then I’ll read something like “Eating Animals” by Jonathon Safram Foer, and it repulses me again at once. I still cook meat for my hubby all the time, and the smell of it just disgusts me.
    .-= meatlessmama´s last blog ..Raw Beet Salad with Raspberry Orange Vinaigrette =-.

  6. This lentil dish sounds so flavorful and usually when I think of lentils I don’t get too excited about them. Maybe even my meat loving hubby would like this.

  7. Even if it didn’t taste like meat, that dish would sound amazing. I love lentils, and it’s one of the few vegan foods my whole carniverous family loves. I wish they were easier to prepare for a dorm-room diet. Giving up prepared soy for lent has made me realize how much I could rely on fake meats for a quick and flavorful(albeit, what flavor I do not know) meal. I should try this before the season’s up!
    .-= Evan Thomas´s last blog ..Life Unexpected =-.

  8. Matt, this sounds awesome. Going to give it a try this weekend.


  9. This sounds excellent – perfect for a cold winter evening!

    I don’t like fake meats either – I like meals/foods that can stand on their own as real food…
    .-= Allison (Eat Clean Live Green)´s last blog ..Pizza That Will Rock Your Socks Off =-.

  10. This sounds great (and affordable!) thanks for sharing. What do black lentils add to the dish other than looks? I’m fairly new to lentils, do they offer a slightly different taste or texture?
    .-= Caroline´s last blog ..Sickly start =-.

    • Hey Caroline, I’m not sure about the black ones. I used the green; supposedly they have an “earthy” flavor that brown lentils don’t. Not sure if I noticed that though. But I do like the texture better. It’s hard to explain the difference; if you cook them you’ll see what I mean.

  11. Made this for dinner last night – had everything but the pearl onions and used red lentils and yellow split peas because that’s what we had… next time I might add sweet potato too. It was delicious!! Everyone loved it!

    • Hey Kristin, nice to hear you tried it! I like red lentils and I’ve been meaning to start cooking with split peas. I bet the end result was very similar to how it was with green lentils. But I must say the onions were the best part! If you get it again, definitely try them. You can get them frozen (easiest), or they come in little mesh bags near the other onions and garlic (tastiest).

      Thanks for letting me know how it turned out!

  12. Oh that looks so good! I’m not a huge lentil fan because their texture sort of bothers me but I do occasionally feel the urge to eat them, especially blended in a soup.

  13. I made this last night and tripled the recipe, which was a good thing because everyone went back for seconds. The only thing I added was two generous pinches of herbs de provence, which added a nice depth. I would definitely make it again. Thanks for posting!

  14. I love that book! Deborah Madison rocks.
    .-= Trinity ´s last blog ..Seitan Nuggets of My Dreams + Puff Pizza =-.

  15. Kristi Stem says:

    The first time I made this it was amazing! The second time, I added baby carrots and a few teaspoons of Gravy Master and let it all simmer in a crock pot and added the greens at the end. Served it over mashed potatoes. OMG!! Just like pot roast mom used to make! Really satisfies when you crave something “beefy”. Thank you for this recipe!!!

  16. i’ll be making a version of this tonight. looks amazing.

  17. Belsnickles says:

    Oh my goodness, this is delicious! I just made it for dinner and even my husband, a reluctant vegetarian who has come to dread “lentil night”, loved it. I found that after 35 minutes of simmering, the mixture was a little soupy, so I took off the cover and let it go for another 10 minutes or so until it was thickened. Perfect for a fall or winter meal.

  18. I just made this and IT IS DELICIOUS! I LOVE IT! I LOVE LENTILS AND I LOVE YOU! I’d never cooked with red wine before, and I think that’s why I love this so much. I posted it on Facebook. I’m obsessed with it. I couldn’t decide between sitting there and eating it all at once, and saving some for my new husband so he would be impressed with what a good cook I am since it is so good. IT’S SO GOOD!

  19. Hi there, the link to the recipe for lentil taco’s no longer exists. Can you provide the recipe in the post maybe?


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