In my mind, lentils are those that make up the steaming mugs of spiced lentil soup, warming my hands, sipped on gently while huddled under a blanket in the winter. They are the delicateness in koshary, a dish we rarely realize is built around lentils; but for the most part, lentils are ignored, almost on purpose. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed, the sad little lentil is at the core of bad Egyptian food jokes and belongs in prison with the people who have been naughty and are undeserving of meat consumption. Of course, it helps that it’s cheap.
As important as they should be in Egyptian cuisine what with their abundance and health benefits, the overlooked lentils just aren’t.
My love for lentils is rooted in Indian food with my grandmother’s extra helpings of slow-cooked creamy Dal Makhani and when I was first told that my beloved crispy Dosa, a crepe made of fermented rice and black lentils, was rich in protein and gluten-free. Apart from that, it has recently occurred to me that I know very little about lentils, away from their tender swollen bellies and fragile skin.
Some rummaging through my treasure trove of books awakened me to the enormous number of perks you’re treating your body to while ingesting these little gems. It now makes absolute sense that they’d be served in prison, minus the bad recipe and additional heapings of nastiness.
Let’s run through some of those fringe benefits you’re providing your body with by choosing lentils. Lentils are the third highest source of plant-based protein after hemp and soybeans and have been touted time and time again as one of the world’s healthiest foods. They contain a cholesterol-lowering fiber that works to aid blood sugar disorders with their high fiber content and with only 230 calories to a cup of cooked lentils, you can fill yourself up with no fat involved. Lentils being the clever little things that they are also work at lowering your risk of heart disease with their significant levels of magnesium and folate. I could continue for a while longer but I think it’s sufficient to say that they’re really, really good for you.
After completing the first half of Ramadan and indulging in its nightly culinary excesses, my body cannot take much more and neither should yours want to. Maybe it’s time to start eating properly again, cleansing our systems like we try to do with our souls, of our gluttony and self-indulgence.
Inspired by the flavors of the mini puff pastry pizzas we would find at birthday parties when we were children, this tart is just as addictive and combines many of those bold slap-in-the-face flavors while eliminating the extra cheese as well as replacing the canned with fresh ingredients that will leave you feeling full, thanks to the lentil fiber that we just learned about, minus the heaviness. As for the pastry, puff pastry is a gift to feed that tiny little glutton you’ve decided to hold on to for just a bit longer.
Aromatic Lentil Tart
1 sheet of ready-rolled frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, lightly whisked
½ a cup of brown lentils, rinsed
2 cups of vegetable stock or water
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 medium-sized tomatoes, sliced
2 tablespoon of olive oil
6 pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
½ a medium onion, finely diced
5 fresh button mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon of thyme
1 medium-sized red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, deseeded and diced
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 loose handful of grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Cook the lentils in a pot of simmering vegetable stock or water over medium heat for 10-15 minutes and set aside. Place the sliced tomatoes in an over-proof dish, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Sautée the onions in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until translucent then add the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of thyme until tender and set aside.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius again. Lay the puff pastry sheet out on a baking tray and fold over 3 cm of each side to create a border. Poke holes with a fork inside of the border you’ve created and brush lightly with olive oil. Brush the border of your pastry with the whisked egg. Begin to layer the tart. Spread half of your cooked lentils and garlic slices to cover the bottom of your tart. Begin to layer your roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers and olives then top with a second layer of lentils and sautéed mushrooms. Drizzle with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and move the tart to the oven. 10 minutes into baking and using a light hand, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and continue to bake until the pastry reaches a golden brown color. It should take around 15-18 minutes to bake in total.