When I was in culinary school, I did a co-op at an up-market vegan restaurant. The experience was interesting (um, most of the kitchen staff were obsessed with barbecue and charcuterie), but one of the more important takeaways was this fantastic spread. Its flavour is intense and upfront with cumin, sriracha and tons of fresh herbs. Making the spread was one of my daily prep responsibilities along with fava puree, large batches of boiled beets, fresh bread and chocolate terrines among other things. After service each night I would ravenously (and probably sweatily) grab a giant piece of leftover focaccia, slather it with this spread, dribble a little bit of balsamic reduction on top and relax for about two seconds before cleaning my station. It was a sweet, spicy and delicious bite.
The reduction and homemade bread isn’t necessary though. This spread has so much going on. It’s full of spice and really satisfying with the lentils. It’s amazing on sandwiches with avocado and arugula or with some simple flatbread, veggie sticks, crackers, whatever your preference. At the restaurant, we served it molded into little oval forms on the plate with a petite parsley bouquet emerging from the center. I serve it really simply: smeared on a nice plate with a heavy pour of olive oil, little flecks of the chopped parsley on top and olives on the side for good measure.
spicy red lentil spread
serves: A whole lot of people, seriously.
special equipment: A potato masher is helpful.
I know it says this in the recipe already, but I can’t stress it enough: you must add the cornmeal while the lentils are still hot. This is what makes the spread stiffen up a bit and hold its shape. Also, stir the lentils while they’re cooking, making sure to scrape the bottom. The first time I made this at the restaurant, I neglected that little morsel of advice, which resulted in about an inch of burnt lentils on the bottom of the pan. Humble pie. Like big time.
1 cup red lentils
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 medium yellow onion, small dice
1/2 cup tomato sauce
3 tbsp sriracha (or to your taste)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne
3 green onions finely sliced (green parts only)
4 hearty stems of parsley, leaves finely sliced
salt and pepper
Cook the lentils. Place them in a medium saucepan with 2 cups of water over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are soft and liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently (you may have to add more water as it’s cooking).
Scrape the hot lentils into a medium mixing bowl and mash together with the cornmeal until a smooth, uniform texture is achieved. Add the cumin and cayenne and mix. Set aside.
In a small saute pan over medium heat, cook the onions until soft and on the verge of turning brown. Add the tomato sauce and sriracha and let simmer for a couple minutes to merge the flavours. Scrape into the lentil mixture and stir to combine.
Allow the spread to cool before folding in the herbs. Season the entire mixture to taste (a fat pinch of salt is good here) and serve.
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