Golden Lentils with Soft, Sweet Onions

From The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation

4-6 servings, depending on the context

click to enlarge


Red lentils (which are actually orange) cook up quickly into a mustardy yellow mash that is quite tasty on its own, even before you add anything to it. From that vantage point, a generous batch of long-cooked dark, sweet onions casts its spell on the entire potful, creating a secret cave of flavor. Suddenly, all you want in this moment is to waft into that cave in a little boat, bringing just a bowl, a spoon, and maybe a flannel blanket. This dish is its own category of comfort food.

Serve this as a bed under grilled or roasted vegetables of a contrasting color, or spread this thickly on toast. It goes very well with another piece of toast topped with Curried Mashed Carrots and Cashews (following recipe).

Get the onions going at least 45 minutes before you hope to have the finished dish, then put up the lentils, so both can cook at the same time.

This will keep for several days in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.  It also freezes beautifully, and reheats well —covered, in a 250°F oven, or in a microwave. 


1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons unsalted butter (optional)

3 cups minced onion (1 pound)

1 teaspoon salt

Up to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cups red lentils

5 cups water

Black pepper



    1. Place a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet over medium heat and wait about a minute, then add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Melt in a little butter, if desired, then toss in the onion. Stir and/or shake the pan to get the onions wilted (about a minute) reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté stirring often for 30 to 40 minutes (add ½ teaspoon salt 20 minutes in) or until the onions are super soft and very sweet.  Douse with the 2 tablespoons of the vinegar at the very end (during the last 2 to 3 minutes or so).
    2. While you are cooking the onions, place the lentils in a soup pot or large saucepan with 5 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to the slowest possible simmer (with a heat absorber, if available, inserted underneath), and partially cover. Cook quietly for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils are perfectly and mindlessly soft.
    3. Add the lentils to the onions, stirring to thoroughly blend, then taste to possibly add more salt and vinegar. Season further with black pepper and cayenne, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.


    Optional Enhancements

    • A crown of fried onions

    • Top with fine dice of ripe heirloom tomatoes or sliced cherry tomatoes, if in season - or with slow-roasted or sun-dried tomatoes

    • Roasted red peppers   - sliced and mixed in, or on top

    • Coconut milk swapped in for up to 1 ½ cups of the lentil cooking water

    • Lace with a drizzle of real Italian balsamic vinegar

    • Sprinkle with chopped green olives and/or some chopped, toasted walnuts

    • A spoonful of thick yogurt and some pomegranate seeds on top


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