Cook: A legume for all seasons earthy lentil fits the bill

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” This quip about the City by the Bay’s weather has long been attributed to Mark Twain, but there is no record of him ever saying it. What is true is the variability of the Bay Area’s summer weather. From heat wave to fog bank, the region’s climate can be variable, adding to the challenge of summertime meal planning.

Below are some lentil recipes that can be served warm or at room temperature. I chose lentils not just because I enjoy them, but also because they figure so prominently in Jewish culinary traditions.

Sweet and Sour Lentils is a favorite recipe of the Rosenthal family of Oakland. They even served it at their daughter’s bat mitzvah. Middle Eastern Rice and Lentil Pilaf is an unconventional approach to mujadara from Michael Natkin’s “Herbivoracious” (Harvard Common Press), a new vegetarian cookbook full of vibrant photos and recipes. Recipes have been adapted for style and space.


Sweet and Sour Lentils

Serves 6-8

1⁄4 cup soy sauce

1 bay leaf

3 Tbs. onion powder (granulated onion)

3⁄4 cup vegetable oil

3⁄4 cup honey, or to taste

1⁄2 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp. ground allspice

1⁄2 tsp. powdered ginger

4 cups water

3 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed

1⁄4 cup chopped parsley

Put soy sauce, bay leaf, onion powder, oil, honey, vinegar, allspice, ginger and water in 4-qt. pot. Mix. Add lentils. Bring to a boil. Stir. Cover and lower heat. Simmer for 11⁄4 to 11⁄2 hours, adding water if necessary, until lentils are tender but not mushy. Turn heat off and leave pot covered for 15 minutes. Uncover, remove bay leaf and stir. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature garnished with parsley.


Middle Eastern Rice and Lentil Pilaf

From “Herbivoracious” by Michael Natkin

Serves 6

1⁄4 cup vegetable oil

3 lbs. white onions, sliced moderately thin

2 tsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt

1⁄2 cup white wine, dry vermouth or water

6 cups cooked long-grain white or brown rice, warm (see note)

3 cups cooked lentils, warm (see note)

1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp. ground cumin

freshly ground black pepper

1 small handful of parsley, coarsely chopped

flaky sea salt

Heat oil in very large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and 2 tsp. kosher salt and cook, stirring occasionally until very soft, about 45 minutes. Turn up heat to medium-high and continue cooking about 20 minutes more, stirring often, until deeply browned and sweet. Pour in wine and stir to scrape up bits at bottom of pan. Mix half the onions with the rice, lentils, cinnamon, cumin, 1 tsp. kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings (see note below). Form a mound of rice and lentils on platter, top with remaining onions, parsley, a grind of pepper and a few grains of the sea salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: Cook the rice and lentils while the onions are cooking. Use regular brown or green lentils, not red lentils or the small, dark green French lentils. For 3 cups of cooked lentils, combine 2 cups of water with 1 cup of dried lentils. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender but not falling apart. Drain excess liquid. Natkin notes his recipe makes a milder, earthier mujadara, but he encourages experimentation. For a more assertive taste, try doubling the cumin and cinnamon and or adding 1⁄4 tsp. of red pepper flakes.

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs at Contact her at [email protected].

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].