Now that asparagus and ramps and spring onions and all the verdant promise of a springtime farmers market are finally inching onto our plates, how about a nice and hearty Lentil and Cabbage Bake for dinner. Does that sound good? No? Am I a little off base? Oh well, this happened last spring, too. I suppose I’m always a little reluctant to close the book on cold-weather comfort food.
The inspiration for 95% of my meals comes from the leftovers residing in my refrigerator, and a tub of cooked lentils and a half of a cabbage are what led to this skillet bake. I ate something similar a few weeks ago, made with chickpeas and tomatoes, and the ease and heartiness was appealing. This one is equally so: so much great texture in the cabbage, lentils, and crunchy topping, and robust earthy flavor, perked up with a bit of tomato paste and red wine vinegar. And I haven’t done the math since, as I said, this is a leftovers-inspired meal, but I’m willing to bet this would serve four people for under $10. (Those are New York prices.)
Cabbage, with its good dose of vitamins K and C and many of the other nutritional perks common among the cruciferous, is one of those things I always mean to eat more often than I do. I like it, and I find that when not boiled to death, most everyone I serve it to likes it, too. A few nights ago I sautéed it in butter with a pinch of sugar and a lot of black pepper, and that comprised most of a light dinner. And I use red cabbage in one of my favorite recipes in Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry, in the Red Cabbage Galette (I shared that recipe with Walkin Kitchen a few months ago).
If you’re going to cook your lentils in advance, as I did, be sure to cool and store them in their cooking liquid. This prevents them from drying out. And by seasoning them with salt towards the end of cooking, you’ll have both nicely flavored lentils and a nicely flavored broth, which gets put to use in this recipe.
Lentil and Cabbage Skillet Bake
Serves 4 or 5
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 celery stalks, diced
1 leek, white part only, sliced into thin half-rings
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups shredded cabbage (about half a small head)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cooked brown lentils, cooking liquid reserved
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1-1/2 cups very coarse breadcrumbs, preferably homemade, or 3/4 cup of panko
Pinch herbes de providence, or smaller pinches of dried thyme, rosemary, and parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 10- or 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the celery and leeks and cook until they just start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for about a minute, stirring, until fragrant. Add the cabbage, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and sugar and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender. Add several grinds of black pepper and taste, adding additional salt if needed. Stir in the lentils and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, cook until the beans are heated through, then remove from the heat. Taste again for balance, then spread the mixture into an even layer.
3. Combine the breadcrumbs with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the dried herbs. Distribute the breadcrumbs over the beans. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the topping is golden-brown and crisp. Serve hot.