Pop into any French bistro and you are sure to find a dish served with France’s famous Le Puy lentils. Celebrated chefs around the world claim the Le Puy lentils are the best in the world. These petite dark green and blue marbled legumes are grown on a mountain plateau in the Loire region of France. The Le Puy lentil is celebrated for its refined “terroir” flavor due in part to the favorable climate and rich volcanic soil. The lentils are the first French food, other than their celebrated wine and cheese, to be awarded the famous “Appellation d’ Origine Contrôlée” mark of quality and assurance of origin.
This may surprise but the lentil has a prehistoric provenance. Archeologists have found evidence of the legume dating over 8,000 years old in the Middle East. They even get a shout out in the Bible when Jacob trades lentils for his birth rite to Esau.
I am a fan of lentils because they are the French equivalent of “fast food.” Not only do they cook fast, but they are an excellent source of iron, protein (miracle food for vegetarian diet), high in myriad of B vitamins, tremendous source of fiber, magnesium, calcium, and an extra bonus, they are low calorie. The French prepare them as salads, hearty soups, and as a delicious side to a roasted chicken or salmon Entrée.
A regular Sunday night dinner at our house is roasted salmon on a bed of lentils with a side salad or sautéed spinach. I work on Sundays so this has become a staple in my repertoire for a quick, healthy and delicious meal to nourish my family! You can purchase the Le Puy lentils online at Amazon.com, at the french foodshop on Bandywood, Litte Gourmand, and now at most grocery stores.
Quintessential French Bistro Roasted Salmon on a bed of Lentils
Most French recipes commence with a mirepoix (celery, onions, carrots, and leeks):
2-3 chopped carrots
1 diced onion
3 chopped celery sticks
1 washed, trimmed, and chopped leek
1-2 tsp.Herbes de Provence
2 cups of dried Le Puy lentils
1 rind of Parmesan Reggiano
1 bay leaf
1 Idaho potato, peeled and diced (I substitute a cup of potato for a cup of cream in a lot of recipes!)
Several generous tablespoons of olive oil
2 T. tomato paste
1-2 tsp. of French Dijon mustard
2 T. good red wine vinegar
1 cup chopped parsley
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
32 oz. of water, chicken or vegetable stock (I’m partial to chicken stock)
squeeze of lime (optional)
Sprigs of thyme
Sauté your mirepoix and dried herbs in olive oil until they are soft. Next, add in Parmesan rind, lentils, Chicken stock, diced potato, tomato paste, Dijon mustard. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes (check that potato is soft). Add red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard to taste. Turn off heat and stir in the parsley and spinach. Season with Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and a squeeze of lime as needed.
Preheat your oven to 425. Next, place an oven-proof sauté pan on the stove with olive oil and allow to heat up for 2-3 minutes. Careful not to let the oil burn. I usually have to redo this step because I walk away and the oil burns. Wash and pat dry your filets of salmon. Bathe each in olive oil and dress with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence. Lay the flesh side down on the sauté pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. You are aiming for a crusty surface. Next, flip the salmon and transfer the entire sauté pan to the oven and cook for 5-8 minutes. I always aim for medium for the kids, but my husband and I prefer medium rare.
To plate the dinner, spoon a heap of lentils in the center of the plate and then crown with your roasted salmon and a sprig of thyme. A quick arugula salad with shavings of Parmessan, drizzled with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon and you are the Sunday night gourmand!