April 22, 2010

one-pot lentils and quinoa

I was watching Lidia the other day: the episode where she visits an Italian farm where a woman raises rare, heritage poultry breeds. I love Lidia: love how she begins every dish with garlic sizzling in lots of olive oil, love how she says “Itly,” instead of Italy, just like my tiny Italian grandmother did, love how she holds court in that awesome kitchen of hers like the matriarch that she is. When Lidia returns to her kitchen on Long Island, she roasts a lovely, fat duck, and serves it with a one-pot side dish of lentils and rice. One pot! That's my kind of Tuesday night meal (well, minus the roast duck; no way that’s happening on a weeknight).

I love making lentils for dinner during the week, since unlike most bean varieties they do not need to be presoaked and cook quickly. For my one-pot meal, I decided to replace rice with quinoa, my favorite pseudo-grain, which, like lentils, is quick-cooking and doesn’t need to be pre-soaked.

This simple dish could be a side or a main course, depending on the situation. It starts with the usual combination of vegetables and aromatics - onion, carrot, celery, garlic - whizzed in the food processor till finely minced. (Lidia also threw in some pancetta, which I didn’t have in the fridge. No problem, I just added some smoked paprika later on -- not quite the same effect as pork, but it adds a nice smokiness). Saute the veg mixture for a few minutes in olive oil, stir in a spoonful of tomato paste, and deglaze with white wine, savoring the resulting whiff of deliciously fragrant steam. In go the lentils, spices, and water. Simmer. Quinoa hops in. Simmer some more. Stir in fresh herbs….

And, voila, it’s done: tender lentils and rice, cooked to a creamy, risotto-like consistency. No, I cannot report that these lentils and quinoa were accompanied by pieces of succulent roast duck, its skin burnished and crisp. Maybe next time. But this protein-packed combination performed very well on its own, accompanied by a tumble of quickly sautéed kale. A delicious, home-cooked weeknight dinner.

To finish the dish, I drizzled the lentils and quinoa with good extra virgin olive oil: as Lidia says, to make it glow. Or is it glisten? Or shine? Oops, I can’t remember right now. Either way, it always feels like the right thing to do.

one-pot lentils and quinoa
Inspired by Lidia's Lentils and Rice

extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sized onion
2 carrots
2 celery ribs
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used a lemony sauvignon blanc from Chile)
1 cup green lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper

1. Pulse the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in a food processor (or chop by hand) until finely minced.

2. Heat 2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil in a pot, add vegetable mixture and a pinch of salt, and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and are fragrant, about 5 minutes.

3. Clear a spot in the pan (Lidia referred to it as a “hot spot”), add the tomato paste, stir it in the spot for a minute or so, and then stir to combine with the vegetables (I’m not sure exactly what this accomplishes, maybe it amps up the flavor of the tomato paste before it gets mixed in with the vegetables? Who knows. Lidia did it, so I did it.)

4. Add wine, stir to deglaze, and simmer for a few minutes until almost completely evaporated.

5. Stir in lentils, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes. Add 2-1/2 cups of hot water (I boiled it in a tea kettle; adding hot just makes things go more quickly), bay leaf, and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the liquid level and add a bit more water if it looks like the lentils are getting too dry.

6. Add quinoa and an additional ½ cup of hot water. Cook for about 20 minutes, until lentils and quinoa are tender. (Lidia said she was aiming for the texture of risotto, moist but not soupy, so I did the same. The dish is pretty forgiving, so you can add water if needed, or let it cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end to dry it out a bit). Stir in fresh herbs and 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

7. Drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil before serving.


  1. A lentil and quinoa risotto...my heart feels healthy just thinking about it. I love Lidia's ways as well. I especially love when she has her own mother on and she does the taste test. It's funny watching her cram such large bites into her mouth and then capping it with a nice gulp of wine.

  2. Hi Amuse-Bouche: Yes, Grandma is the best! I always hope she will be on at the end of the show to taste what Lidia has cooked. I love when she does that cute little Italian gesture of nodding her head and shaking her hand when she really likes something!

  3. how crunchy, healthy, nutty. mmm.

  4. I love lentils, but would never have thought to team them with quinoa! Really like the herbs added. Such a lovely dish and so good for you!

  5. Amelia: this has great texture; nice how the quinoa retains its bite and soaks up lots of flavor.

    Barabara: thanks! This will definitely be a go-to dish from now on.

  6. Mmm, I do love quinoa and lentils! This looks splendid, Nancy. :-)

  7. I make both of them often but never thought of cooking them in the same pot. I read a recipe for quinoa and polenta cooked together that I'm still trying to wrap my head around. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. what a great combination!! I love finding something so simple but yet so imaginative.
    I'm very happy to have found your blog!

  9. Hi Adair: welcome! quinoa and polenta together - I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around that one, too! it sounds interesting, though.

    Hi Chef Dennis: welcome and thanks for your comment! yup this is simple as can be. I think it would be good with some dark greens cooked into it, too.

  10. Love that dish that reminds me of our mujaddara, which is a lentil and rice or bulgur porridge; like Lydia too; my grandmother was steeped in Italian culture as her mom was from Trieste and the family was Dalmatian. Anyway, love that type of cuisine.

  11. Hi Taste of Beirut: I've heard of mujaddara but have not tried making it; definitely one to try! And wow, how lucky to have your very own Lidia in the family! Trieste is such a fascinating region.

  12. We've been trying to eat more quinoa and I'm not sold on it yet--but I love everything lentil, so I might just be giving this a go!

  13. Hi, this sounds great, I would never of thought to put the two together, I'm glad I stopped by- thankyou!

  14. TKW: this is definitely a good strategy for starting out with quinoa -- its flavor and texture are less pronounced alongside the lentils and spices.

    Hi Camilla: Welcome and thanks for your kind comment!

  15. i could eat this type of dish daily. don't you love having cooked grains/lentils mid-week for lunches? i also think they're terrific cold. great blog!!

  16. Welcome, Carolyn! Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. I could eat dishes like this every day, too. So right about it being good cold -- I had some leftover lentil/quionoa cold with dandelion greens in a salad and it was great.

  17. all my favorite things in one pot, I cant resist. Its foods like this that leave me full and feeling good about what I ate. Great site, cheers to you.

  18. Hi Sprouted Kitchen - welcome and thanks!

  19. HI-

  20. anon, thanks for leaving me the most awesomely hilarious comment EVER!!!! made my day. don't hate yourself ;)