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Lentils, the subtlest legume

Wikispanishfood.com editorial team

The modest and tasty lentil has played an enormously important role in the history of food in the West. It is believed that lentils were first grown seven thousand years ago. During its lengthy history, lentils have secured a prime spot on the food scene, appearing at the most extravagant feasts and at dinner tables in the humblest of households. Today they are an essential, distinctive element of our diet.

The prestige of these legumes is rooted in the Bible. The Old Testament tells the story of how Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a dish of lentils which, at that time, were indubitably extremely valuable. Although the word “lentil” comes from the Latin lenticula, it was the Egyptian who propagated this crop into neighboring areas. In the Greco-Roman era, the ship that transported Caligula's obelisk to Rome was weighed down with 800 tons of lentils, and in Greece, Aristotle saidthey were a common food among the working classes.

Apicius and Don Quixote  

Apicius, the collection of Roman cookery recipes from the 4th-5th century AD, includes several lentil dishes. Many centuries later, the Spanish brought lentils to America since, at that time, they were a fundamental part of our eating habits, and they have continued to play a key role in our diets until today. And, as everyone knows, Don Quixote loved his lentils, and ate them every Friday...

In current-day cooking, traditional Spanish recipes mix seamlessly with new and surprising concoctions. The primary step for preparing a delicious lentil dish is selecting the right beans before soaking them for around 12 hours, which is a requirement for all recipes with this legume.

In the company of aromatic plants

Lentils acquire more flavor when they are seasoned with aromatic plants, such as thyme, tarragon, cilantro, dill and a touch of paprika. Some of those spices are a fundamental component of classic recipes, such as lentil stew and lentil soup, and they pair perfectly with game.

Lately, lentils have also been popping up in purées and salads and, when used in the latter, it's important to dress them carefully when using sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. All kinds of lentils can be used for these recipes, including therubia castellana, which is the most common, popular and highest-quality lentil in Spain. Castile-La Mancha is the main producing region. Lentils from La Armuña, which have their own Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), are produced mainly in an area in southern Salamanca. Pardina lentils, which are brownish-red, also have their own PGI, and are grown in the provinces of León, Zamora and Palencia. Verdina lentils, which are olive green in color, are also outstanding.

Lentils, Madrid-style

This time of year, lentils can be found in practically all restaurants in Madrid, as they are a very popular ingredient, especially in stews. Here we suggest a few excellent, centrally-located restaurants where lentils are always treated like the star product that they are. DE LA RIVA, which opened in 1932, serves a lentil stew that is always one of the top dishes on the menu.The always-crowded El PUCHERO, near the Glorieta de Bilbao, LA ANCHA, close to Las Cortes, and PAULINO… Outside Madrid, you'll be able to find delicious lentils in any town in Castile-León, as is the case at Mesón EL LABRADOR, in Zamora province; EL RACIMO DE ORO, in León; and MESON DE AMPUDIA, in Palencia.    

Lentils, an emblematic product in many Spanish kitchens, always offer great value for money. As its gastronomic possibilities are seemingly infinite, we are witnessing the definitive recognition of a product that always surprises whoever seeks out a new recipe or preparation.

ADDRESSES

DE LA RIVA. Cochabamba, 13. Tfno. 914 588 954. Madrid restaurantedelariva.com

EL PUCHERO. Larra, 13. Tfno. 913 456 298. Madrid elpuchero.com

LA ANCHA. Zorrilla, 7. Tfno. 914 298 186. Madrid laancha.com

PAULINO. Alonso Cano, 34, Tfno. 914 418 737. Madrid www.casapau

EL LABRADOR. Autovía A-6  Madrid-Coruña. Tfno. 980 664 653, Castroverde de Campos. Zamora

EL RACIMO DE ORO. Plaza San Martín, Tfno. 987 214 767. León www.racimodeoro.com

MESON DE AMPUDIA. Corredera, 28. Tfno. 979 768 291. Ampudia. Palencia. www.mesondeampudia.es

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11/12/2014