The success of serving a vegetarian dish to meat eaters relies on whether the dish is satisfying and toothsome. Well, at least for me those are the important things. Having a variety of textures and flavors is also important. One of my favorite books is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I got it in London when it first came out, and I love it so much that I don’t even care that all measurements are in grams and temperatures in °C. A version for the US was released in March and I have recommended it to all my friends. The recipes are all vegetarian, but I promise that when you look at the book the last thing on your mind will be “where is the meat.”
I found these gorgeous baby carrots at the farmer’s market, and used them in place of regular carrots. And since ramps are in season I had to find a way to incorporate them in here. I decided to make some ramp pesto to and mix it into the yogurt topping to add a kick of flavor. Ramps have a pungent onion/garlic like flavor. They are the first sign of spring and people here go crazy about them. They can be expensive at up to $5 a bunch, so using them in pesto really doubles the yield and also reigns in their strong flavor.
It is nice to serve the lentils/eggplant warm during the colder months, but I like to serve this cold over the summer. I promise that when you eat this you will not even think about meat.
2 medium eggplants
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
7 ounces French green lentils, rinsed and drained
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery sticks
3½ tablespoons olive oil
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
½ teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon each of parsley, cilantro, and dill, roughly chopped
¼ cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons ramp pesto
1. Cook eggplants: Preheat broiler. Pierce eggplants with a fork all over to prevent them from exploding while cooking. Cover a small cookie sheet with foil and place the eggplants on it. Broil eggplants for 1 hour turning them every 15 minutes. They should be charred in places and the inside should be cooked. Remove eggplants from the oven, slice them in half, scoop out the flesh and place it on a colander for about 15-20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Cook vegetables: Dice carrots, and celery into ½ inch pieces. In a medium oven proof dish, place tomatoes, carrots, and celery. Sprinkle ½ tablespoon olive oil, sugar, and salt. Combine to coat. Cook in a 275°F oven for 20 minutes. Set aside.
3. Cook lentils: In a medium pot, add lentils, onion, bay leaf, thyme, ½ celery stick, and 1 carrot. Fill pot with water. Cook lentils for 20-30 minutes or until soft. While the lentils cook prepare the vinaigrette. In a medium bowl place vinegar and 3 tablespoons olive oil add salt and pepper. Drain lentils. Place lentils in bowl with vinaigrette. Fold to combine. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Add cooked vegetables to lentils.
4. Make yogurt topping: stir 2 tablespoons ramp pesto into yogurt.
5. Assemble dish. Divide lentils among 4 plates. Place some of the eggplant on top of the lentils, top with 1 tablespoon of the yogurt topping.
1/3 cup hazelnuts (skinned), walnuts, almonds, or pine nuts, roughly chopped
1 bunch ramps, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
½ cup olive oil
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a skillet, toast the nuts until fragrant shaking the skillet often so that the nuts don’t burn, about 5 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes.
2. Place nuts, ramps, lemon zest, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. With the food processor running add in the olive oil. Add in the parmesan cheese and pulse a few times. Remove from food processor. Season with salt and pepper to taste.