Lamb Rib Chops & Lentils Catalane

I will usually order lamb if it’s on a menu, especially lemon & garlic infused rib chops like these. We don’t have them at home very often, but this Easter they were a perfect fit for our intimate stay-home dinner. Lamb and lentils have a natural affinity for each other, but this particular recipe for Lentils Catalane is the best we’ve tried and everyone who has ever tried them has refused to leave without the recipe. Thing is, the ingredients list couldn’t be more mundane — all simple pantry items: lentils, onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, tomato paste, oregano and thyme. The key to the wonderful flavor? There are two, actually.

One, use roughly equal weights of onions and lentils, then cook the onions until completely translucent. Believe it or not, this is the step where the dish will most often go astray — if the onions are still slightly opaque when the other ingredients are added, the moment is lost and the recipe will not taste quite as heavenly, no matter how much longer the dish is cooked.

Two, cook the tomato paste before adding the lentils. That’s it! — now you have the keys and this wonderful recipe is open to you. It is a wonderful accompaniment to any grilled meat — but is at its coquettish best with lamb. Having said that, these lentils are so savory and flavorful on their own, they would make a wonderful tortilla wrap or pita filling, too. Last night we made the serendipitous discovery that they also married well with the Fenugreek Potatoes, so the 2 together would make a filling and luscious vegetarian sandwich or pizza.

Oh, there is one catch. Make the lentils at least 24 hours before you intend to use or serve them. Because they are cooked separately from the base, the lentils need the overnight in the fridge to really meld the flavors together.

Serves 4 persons
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp sea salt
ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1 tsp. dried

12 lamb rib chops
1/2 lemon

Combine all marinade ingredients in glass bowl and add lamb. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but no longer than 8.

Remove to room temperature 30 minutes before grilling. Grill to desired doneness.

(Prepare 24 hours before service)

10 oz. (280g) French green (Puy) lentils, or other green lentils

Wash and rinse through lentils in several changes of water, and remove any small pebbles. Place in a small (2qt) saucepan and cover with water by at least 2 inches, and place lid slightly ajar. Over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until lentils are just soft (cooking time will depend on the freshness of the lentils). Remove from heat, cover and keep to one side.

While lentils are cooking, prepare the base:
2 medium brown onions, about 280g when minced
5 TBL. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 TBL. tomato paste
sea salt
ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme

Cook onions in covered skillet or small dutch oven over low heat until they are semi-translucent, about 8-10 minutes, then add garlic. Return cover and continue cooking until onions are completely translucent (they will taste sweet and mellow), about another 5-8 minutes, depending on your pan.

Move onions away from center of the pan and put tomato paste in the center. Press tomato paste against bottom of pan to maximize contact between the pan and paste. Stir to bring more paste in contact with heat — you will see the paste begin to change color from bright candy apple red to a darker red pepper color. Begin to incorporate the onions into the paste, add salt and pepper, then cover and let cook on low heat for about 5 minutes. Add oregano and thyme, stir through and cook together for another 5 minutes or until you begin to smell the herbs come through the tomato fragrance.

Using a slotted soon, remove lentils from cooking liquid and add to tomato mixture. Add enough of the cooking liquid to allow the lentils and base to combine, but not become soupy (usually 2-3 TBL. does the trick). Heat together for 10 minutes. Then let cool in pan. Remove to container to chill overnight.

When ready to serve, re-heat gently in the oven or microwave. (optional step) Add 4-5 drops of toasted sesame seed oil and incorporate.