Lentils and Shells with cilantro-scented onions, spinach, and spinach crowns


by: Jasmina

Spinach crowns are the rosy base of each plant, including a few inches of the stems. They’re usually thrown out, but they’re delicious and very pretty. If you use brown lentils and whole wheat pasta here, your dish will look, quite frankly, drab. Since we eat with our eyes, look for black or French green lentils instead of brown to make this dish as appealing to the eye as it is to the tongue. The lentils—sparked with spinach and onions seasoned with cumin, lime, and cilantro—snuggle right into the pasta shells. If you like them soupy, you can simply add a little of the lentil broth. This is an ideal dish to make when you have leftover lentils, pasta, or even cooked rice to use in place of or along with the pasta. Vegan, unless butter is used. I’d start this supper with an appetizer of warm whole wheat flatbread or crackers, a garlicky yogurt cheese, some oil-cured olives, and something raw for brightness—cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, or sliced fennel. As for wine, a New World Syrah from Qupé in Santa Barbara has some fruit for the spice and some heartiness for the lentils.


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serves: 4-6

1 cup green (Le Puy) or black (Beluga) lentils, rinsed

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 bunch of spinach (the leaves cut at the stems, the base trimmed to include about 3 inches of the stems)

3 tablespoons olive oil (or mixed olive oil and butter)

2 large onions (sliced 1/4 inch thick)

1 cup (scant) chopped cilantro

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (or more to taste)

3 tablespoons chopped mint (optional)

1 large lime, halved

1/2 pound small pasta shells

herb bouquet:

1 leaf bay

1 celery rib

2 sprigs thyme (tied together)

Nutrition Facts
Lentils and Shells with cilantro-scented onions, spinach, and spinach crowns

Servings Per Recipe: 4

Amount per Serving

Calories: 528

  • Total Fat: 12.3 g
  •     Saturated Fat: 1.8 g
  •     Trans Fat: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 90.2 mg
  • Total Carbs: 87.1 g
  •     Dietary Fiber: 24.7 g
  •     Sugars: 5 g
  • Protein: 24.7 g

how is this calculated?

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1.  Simmer the lentils in 6 cups water with the herb bouquet and 1/2 teaspoon salt until very soft but not mushy, 35 minutes or so. Cover and let stand when finished. Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta.

2.  While the lentils are cooking, slice off the spinach crowns, leaving about 3 inches of the stems. Pick off any roots and funky-looking parts, and set the crowns aside in a bowl of water to soak for at least 15 minutes. Discard the rest of the stems. Coarsely chop the spinach leaves, then wash them well and set aside in a colander. Vigorously rinse the crowns to get rid of any sand.

3.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 20 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, cumin, and mint. Turn off the heat and squeeze the limes over the onions. Season well with salt and pepper.

4.  When the pasta water boils, add salt and the pasta and cook until al dente. Scoop it out and add it to the lentils. Add the spinach to the pot, cook until just wilted, after several minutes, then add to the lentils and pasta. Blanch the crowns for 1 minute, then scoop them out.

5.  Toss the lentils, pasta, and spinach with half the onions and a teaspoon of the remaining oil. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Spoon the remaining onions and spinach crowns over the top, drizzle the last of the oil over all, and serve.

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