This is one of the ideas we brought back from our recent trip to NYC: a dipping sauce of lentils and olive oil. On one of our nights out, we stopped at Mercato, a small Italian restaurant just down the street from where we were staying that specializes in southern Italian dishes. Here, instead of serving bread with olive oil and garlic, or olive oil and balsamic vinegar, they served bread with a small dish of lentils and olive oil. We loved it and vowed to make it once we returned home.
We didn’t base this on any recipe, but it seemed so simple that we figured we could make up a batch the next time we had lentils. We’d simply reserve a quarter-cup of the cooked lentils and have at it. If you already know how to make lentils, make up a batch the way you like them; otherwise, we’ll show you how we scratch out lentils.
Use good extra-virgin olive oil, preferably one with a nice fruity flavor (that’s what they seemed to use at Mercato), and, remember, many extra-virgin olive oils are not extra-virgin. Even some of the big names can be suspect. The best way of telling is to taste it. It should have flavor. A lot of flavor. Perhaps enough flavor to make you cough; if it tastes mild and nearly flavorless, it’s not extra-virgin olive oil. For the lentils, we knew it’d be nearly impossible to make just a quarter-cup of cooked lentils, so we made about a cup’s worth and had them with barley for lunch, saving just enough for our dinnertime dip.
Procedure in detail:
Again, if you already have a great way of cooking lentils, by all means, we aren’t going to stop you. Go ahead and make them the way you like.
For the lentils:
Cook onions and garlic. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so the alliums don’t stick or burn.
Add lentils. Add the rinsed lentils along with a cup of water and bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the lentils, and cook until tender, about 40 minutes. Start checking after about 20 minutes, because some lentils will cook faster than others.
Taste and season. Stir in vinegar. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
For the dip:
Combine. Stir together 1/4 cup of the cooked lentils and the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. The oil will stay on top, so don’t try to mix it in completely. It won’t work.
Taste and adjust. The best way to adjust your seasonings is to dip a small piece of bread into the mixture and taste it. Add a bit of salt and pepper, if needed.
That’s it. It is really an easy dip, isn’t it? Simply a few tasty ingredients combined in a bowl, nothing more. As with many Italian dishes, it’s all about letting the ingredients shine, not necessarily about extensive preparation and work. We just love having something different, like this, for dipping our bread. An easy five.