One of the reasons I love trying new restaurants is because I love being challenged. I regularly go into a place I’ve never been before and ask “what is the most daring thing on the menu?” and order that. I’ve yet to have the hot chocolate with crickets at Mink, but I’ve made some delightfully surprising discoveries this way, like the Chicken Fried Gator at Chewies, or the Octopus Chips at the now-defunct Bonita.
A couple weeks back, I had a dish similar to this one at Left Bank for brunch. Lentils are not often thought of as a breakfast or brunch food, and this dish really would be good any time of the day. But it does have an egg, so for me, that puts it in the breakfast/brunch category.
There are two components to this dish. The first is the lentil cassoulet. It’s simple, but flavourful. The main challenge of this component is time: the lentils need to braise for a while to become soft enough, and to pick up all the yummy savouriness of the mirepoix and the herbs.
The second challenge of this dish is the timing of the eggs. Now, it’s not super hard to make a runny egg if you’re doing sunny-side up. It gets exponentially harder when the egg is in its shell, or if you are poaching it, because the yolk is hidden under the white, and it becomes more challenging to tell when it’s the right doneness. You want the yolk to still be runny, because it creates a kind of built-in sauce when you cut into the cassoulet.
But if you can get it all right, the end result is both rustic and sophisticated, in a French country kind of way. No matter how you slice it, it’s comfort food through and through.
I specifically set out to make this vegetarian, but I think it would be delicious if you fried chopped bacon in the pan instead of using oil and butter to cook the vegetables in before adding the lentils. The bacon would give the lentils a lovely, smokey flavour, and really, what goes better with eggs than some bacon?
Lentil Cassoulet with Baked Egg
(gluten free, vegetarian)
- 1 cup dried lentils, either french or beluga (as I used here)
- 2 cups (plus more) good quality vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 medium carrot, diced fine
- 1 stalk of celery, diced fine
- 1 small onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- salt and pepper to taste
- Wash the lentils and strain them.
- In a medium-sized saucepan, over medium-low heat, melt the butter and olive oil together, and then add the onion, carrot and celery. Season, and then sweat the vegetables out for about 5-10 minutes, until they are fragrant, and starting to soften. Add the garlic and stir well, just a minute or two. Now add the lentils, stir and coat them well in the vegetables and oil. Drop in the bay leaf and thyme.
- Add the wine and tomato paste, and stir well. Now add vegetable stock, a few ladlefuls at a time, until the lentils are covered in stock. Allow it to come up to a simmer, and then cover loosely and allow to braise. All together, this step will probably take about an hour. Stir them occasionally, and check to see that they have not boiled dry. When they start to look dry, add some more stock. Cook until the lentils are soft, and most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Remove bay leaf and thyme twigs, and allow to cool.
- Place a large spoonful of cassoulet in a ramekin. Push the lentils up the side to make a kind of nest for the egg. Break and egg in the middle of the nest, and then bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the whites are set, but the yolk is still runny.
- If desired, garnish with chopped scallions, then finish with smoked salt or truffle salt, and serve.