I stumbled on this recipe while thumbing through How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, and commenced making it a number of times, making little variations each time. My husband loves lentils, and since the only other thing I’ve ever made with them is soup, I figured it would be worth a try. Lentils are high in protein, don’t require pre-soaking, cook in a short amount of time, and come in an interesting range of colors (red, brown, black, yellow, and green). As Bittman suggests, green or brown lentils are best for these cakes because they hold their shape fairly well after cooking. Although the original recipe bakes the cakes in the oven, I liked the texture I got when frying them in a cast-iron pan with a little olive oil, resulting in a nicely caramelized top and bottom, while still leaving a tender inner crumb.
With a few suggestions from The Flavor Bible, I ended up with a cake that has some nice herbal notes from sorrel and parsley and a little bite from raw shallots and sherry vinegar. I made this version with brown rice flour and potato starch for a gluten-free profile, but you could easily substitute flour or even bread crumbs instead. If you don’t have every single element, don’t fret. Try red onion instead of shallots, use just parsley and add a little lemon zest to mimic the sorrel, or even substitute a different cheese if you like. The point is, I think, to make and eat these lentil cakes as best you can. After all, to cook is to improvise, and there is simple pleasure to be found in the freedom of following your own path.
To cook the lentils:
1/2 pound green lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the lentils well. Place in a 4-quart saucepan and cover with cold water by 3-inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook ten minutes, or until beginning to soften and become tender. Add a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and cook for another five minutes. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, drain well, and set aside.
For the mustard vinaigrette:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon of dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon greek yogurt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk the first four ingredients together until emulsified. Whisk in the yogurt and coriander until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
For the lentil cakes:
3 cups cooked green lentils
1/4 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup shallot, chopped into large pieces
1/4 cup, packed, of fresh sorrel, torn into large pieces
1/4 cup, packed, of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, removed from the stems
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3/4 cup brown rice flour
2 tablespoons potato starch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
A food processor
(Note: If you don’t have a food processor, you can mash the lentils by hand with a potato masher, and then blend everything together in the order listed below. The texture of the final mix will be chunkier than if blended with a food processor).
Measure 3 cups of lentils into the large bowl of a food processor, fitted with the chopping/mixing blade. Add the goat cheese, distributing evenly in chunks over the lentils. Add the chopped shallot, sorrel, and parsley, sprinkling evenly over the lentils. Sprinkle the sherry vinegar over everything. Cover with the processing bowl lid and pulse very briefly (1 second) two or three times until the mixture is still chunky but somewhat blended.
In a separate medium bowl, stir the brown rice flour together with the potato starch, baking powder, salt and pepper. Sprinkle evenly over the lentil mixture in the food processor bowl. Pulse briefly two or three more times, until the dry ingredients are mixed in, and the lentil mixture is a little smoother but still retaining some chunky texture to it. Scoop the blended mixture into the medium bowl that you used to blend the dry ingredients. The lentil mixture will be thick, but will still be fairly moist, and will hold together loosely when scooped into the skillet.
(Alternatively, using a large heavy griddle to cook the lentil cakes would work as well, and you could cook several of the cakes at a time depending on the size of your griddle. Be sure to coat the griddle with a little olive oil as well to help create a nice crust on the cakes).
Cook the lentil cakes, about three or so minutes on each side, until the cake gives just slightly when pressed, and both sides are have a medium golden caramelized crust. Serve immediately with the mustard vinaigrette on the side. The lentil cakes are best when eaten just after being cooked, but leftovers can be refrigerated and re-heated in the oven.
Makes 12 lentil cakes, about three inches round each