How about a recipe for savory chicken and lentils in a mouthwatering wine-mushroom sauce? Did I get your attention?
I’m the first to admit that a plate of lentils didn’t used to thrill me. Post-WWII, my mother made rather plain lentil soup/porridge at least once a week. Though my taste buds have since become much more discriminating and accepting, I admit that I didn’t look forward to lentil soup night back when I was five or six. I had the same feeling about succotash, a dish my father loved, but that’s another post.
In most of India, a spiced lentil stew or pulse known as Dal (often served with rice or rotis) is a staple. Lentils paired with a grain, meat, dairy, or nut makes for a hearty, inexpensive complete protein, and it’s staple in many Mediterranean, South Asian, and North African countries. Only quinoa and soybeans contain complete amino acids, so lentils need one of these pairings to make it complete.
Even though lentils are easy to grow, frost resistant, and loaded with nutrients, they’re hardly exotic or glamorous. Many varieties of lentils are available worldwide. Regular brown lentils are common in the United States. There are French lentils in green, yellow, tan, red, black, some with different colored interiors. Split orange lentils are grown in India. These are a favorite of my friend Bina, and they’re the easiest to digest.
Lentils are one of the oldest pulse crops and among the earliest domesticated crops. Archeologists have found carbonized remains along prehistoric human habitation sites dating back to 11,000 ago.
But what if you don’t like lentils, or you find them hard to digest? Perhaps when you’ve had them in the past, they weren’t that tasty, or they had a pasty mouthfeel. Whatever the reason, your taste buds were bored. Well, all of that can be changed with the right flavors and spices, a smoother texture, and the addition of a little wine.
The secret for perfect lentils is proper cooking. Although most recipes say it’s not necessary to soak lentils, you get a quicker cook time if you do. If you don’t want to soak lentils overnight, or at all, your slow cooker can to do the work for you. In fact, this is the newest recipe that I’ve adapted from the stovetop to the slow cooker, and it’s delicious.
Savory Chicken and Lentils
Chef’s note: This dish takes lentils to gastronomical heights. They’re cooked to perfection and pick up the flavor of everything else in your pot. As a bonus, there’s a rich, wine-flavored sauce and lots of mushrooms to spoon over the plump chicken thighs. The sauce is similar to a balsamic glaze, which is all the rage these days. In our house, we serve the remaining red wine along with the dinner. Bon appetit!
This recipe serves 4 to 6 generously.
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 cups brown, green, yellow, or red lentils
2½ cups boiling stock, broth, or water
Sea salt and black pepper
8–10 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (or use chicken breasts if you prefer)
1 lb. baby bella (cremini or brown) mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1 cup red wine such as merlot, port, shiraz, or chianti (I used a combination of port and chianti)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins or rounds
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, or 1 tablespoon dried
25–35 Chinese pea pods (snow peas)
- Heat slow cooker to high.
- Place sliced onions in a single layer across the bottom of the slow cooker.
- Rinse lentils in a strainer and add to pot. Add boiling broth or water.
- Let rest for 15 minutes while preparing remaining ingredients. Set the slow cooker to low.
- Salt and pepper the chicken before adding to the pot. Layer mushrooms over the chicken.
- Mix wine, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and olive oil in a measuring cup. Stir well, then pour over the chicken-mushroom layer.
- Add carrot and rosemary, tucking the sprigs in here and there. Cover and cook for 5 hours on low.
- Add pea pods and cook for another 30 minutes, or until crisp-tender only.
Image from iStocl/iko636.