I have to tell you, I am reading the most fascinating book. It’s actually what inspired me to make this recipe. It’s called Eating On The Wild Side by Jo Robinson, and it’s being hailed as the first book to reveal the nutritional history of fruits and vegetables. Ok, I admit this may not sound as riveting as a suspense thriller, but to a veggie-growing nutrition nerd like me, it’s pretty much on par so I’m savoring every word. And here’s what I learned that inspired me to whip up this dish: it turns out that beets and carrots become MORE nutritious when you cook them. Who knew? I sure didn’t.
I’ve been going around for years making grated beet and carrot salads, thinking I was maximizing the nutritional value of these veggies by eating them raw rather than cooked. Well. It turns out a roasted carrot is healthier for you than munching on a raw carrot stick. In fact, a cooked whole carrot served with olive oil (beta-carotene is fat-soluble) will give you eight times more beta-carotene than a raw baby carrot would! Similarly, beets become more nutritious when you roast them. Roasting beets and carrots whole (no chopping), and leaving their skins on keeps the nutrients intact.
This easy lentil dish showcases freshly harvested carrots and beets, roasted whole in a bit of olive oil, which brings out their sweetness and flavor. At this time of year, carrots and beets are probably the shining stars of your garden or local farmer’s market, so this is the perfect season to make this recipe. Did you know carrot tops are edible and have a distinctive fresh, carrot-ey flavor? For this recipe, I like to add a half cup of chopped carrot greens to the lentils, for added flavor.
Lentils are delicious and don’t take too long to prepare from scratch since they don’t need to be soaked in advance the way beans do. I use French lentils which are dark and more nutritious than the conventional brown lentils. I also prefer their taste, and they are so pretty to look at. Topped with some salty feta and an eggless aioli that takes only minutes to prepare, this delicious lentil dish can be served for lunch or dinner, either as a main course or a side dish. Bon appétit!
Lentils with Roasted Beets and Carrots
- 2 1/2 cups French lentils (also called Puy lentils)
- About 1 dozen (1 large bunch) medium-small carrots, with their tops on
- About 1 dozen (2 large bunches) medium-small beets
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (whatever you have on hand: basil, chives, or parsley)
- 1/2 cup chopped carrot tops
- Grated zest of one organic lemon
- 1/2 cup feta cheese
- For Eggless Aioli:
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- Fresh-squeezed juice of one large lemon (about 1/4 cup)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Remove the leafy tops from the carrots and beets. Reserve the carrot tops. (Beet greens can also be kept as they are extremely nutritious and delicious). Wash and scrub the carrots and beets, removing any soil, leaving their skins on. Place the whole carrots and beets in a large French oven or enamelled iron pot and mix in the 2 tbsp. olive oil, fully coating the vegetables in oil.
- In a 375 F oven, roast the vegetables for about 30 to 45 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork. If you wish, once the beet are cool enough to handle, you can remove the skins from the beets by gently rubbing them off with your fingers.
- Meanwhile, rinse the lentils and check them for small pebbles, then place them in a medium saucepan. Cover them with water and bring to a boil.
- Simmer on medium heat, uncovered, for about 30 to 40 minutes, until tender but not falling apart or turning mushy. (Add water if necessary through the cooking). Drain the lentils and place them in a large shallow serving bowl.
- In a blender or food processor, puree the garlic, lemon juice, and salt to make the aioli. Add the olive oil and puree until thick and opaque and no chunks of garlic remain. Pour this mixture over the lentils. Add the chopped carrot tops, chopped herbs, and grated lemon zest and toss it all together. Season with a bit of salt and pepper if you wish.
- Place the roasted carrots and beets on top, then crumble the feta all around. Serve warm or cold.
Yield: 6-8 servings
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.