Those of you who raised your eyebrows at the very idea of lentils mixed with chocolate might be forgiven for thinking that we have lost our tiny minds, that too long around infant children, cooing and a-goo-goo-gooing, has softened our already mushy brains beyond repair. Indeed, had we not gone out on a limb ourselves and given this a bash, I daresay we would be right there among you sucking our teeth and rolling our eyes, but, like many foods that turn out to be extra delicious, a small leap of faith is necessary.
Rather like the sensation you experience shortly after realizing you put on your underwear inside out, eating lentils with chocolate is initially unsettling. That something as earthy and savory as lentils can work with luxurious chocolate is certainly a surprise, but a very dark, high cocoa-solids chocolate does have a distinctly savory quality, and I don’t have to remind you that until some bright spark mixed it with milk and sugar, chocolate was an exclusively savory product for centuries.
The origins of this unusual dish are unclear, or at least we were unable to discover them using Google Translate, and we cannot lay claim to being its inventors, but a recent flick through some old photos reminded me that I had been intrigued by it a while ago. Those among you with long memories, may remember that back in the fall of last year, when we made the traditional Argentine dish locro de mondongo, we mentioned having eaten some Buenos Aires’ favorite empanadas at La Cupertina, a charming little cafe in the Palermo Soho district of that glorious city. And the especially keen-eyed may have noticed that in a photo illustrating said post featuring the window of said cafe the specialties of the house were listed, including lentejas al chocolate.
Certainly not a common dish anywhere, lentils with chocolate can be found on both sides of the Atlantic in northern Spanish, especially Asturian, and Portuguese cuisine, as well as throughout Latin America. The lentils are usually served soupily with a humble garnish of fried, garlicky croutons and a good glass of red wine, but in our own unique, whimsical manner, we paired them with a monster pimenton-spiked pork chop, and attempted a strange kind of winter scene as a garnish, decorating the plate with steamed asparagus tip “Christmas trees” gaily adorned with festive ribbons made from roasted red pepper strips. In quite what role the roasted pearl onions were cast remains uncertain. Perhaps they resemble over-sized tree ornaments, perhaps not. Maybe we are going soft in the head after all.
- 1 cup green lentils (Puy lentils also work but make the whole thing look much darker, and you need to boil them for longer)
- 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 1/2 Spanish onion, peeled but not chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2-3 cups boiling water
- 1/2 bar (2oz) best quality dark chocolate, chopped finely or grated
- 2-3 bay leaves (dried)
- (optional) 1/4 jalapeno pepper, diced and seeded
- Place lentils in a medium saucepan with salt, peppercorns, bay, garlic, jalapeno (optional) and onion. Pour over enough boiling water to cover them by about 1/2 inch / 1 centimeter
- Bring back to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until lentils are al dente, but not mushy. (You may need additional water if lentils start to dry out.)
- Drain most of remaining liquid from cooked lentils, leaving 2-3 tablespoons in the pot.
- Remove bay leaves, and sprinkle in chocolate. Stir well. Re-cover and allow chocolate to melt for 2 minutes.
- Stir, taste and correct seasoning.
- Serve with fat garlicky croutons or in a whimsical styling of your choice.