I am not a vegetarian, but I play one at work. I am constantly trying to create new vegetarian dishes to inspire both myself and (more importantly) my clients, and these lentil cakes are a new favorite.
Black lentils hold their shape well when cooking, making for a nicely textured final product. If you are unable to find black lentils, french green lentils would be a fine substitute. A tangy yogurt sauce is the perfect accompaniment to these savory, protein-packed pucks of delight.
Black Lentil Cakes:
1 1/2 C. black lentils
4 C. water
1/2 C. each onion, fennel, celery, and carrot, small dice
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 C. breadcrumbs, plus more for frying
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
a big handful of chopped fresh dill and/or Italian parsley
Rinse the lentils thoroughly and place into a saucepan with 4 C. cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 12-16 minutes or until the lentils are soft but not mushy. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat and saute the vegetables in olive oil until just starting to brown, 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, combine the lentils, sauteed veggies, eggs, and 1 tsp. salt and mix thoroughly.
Scoop 2 C. of the mixture into a food processor and puree, scraping down the sides 3 or 4 times as necessary. Transfer the pureed mixture back into the original bowl and add the breadcrumbs and fresh herbs. Mix very thoroughly and place in the fridge to chill for at least one hour or up to one day.
When you are ready to form and fry the cakes, first test the mixture to be sure it will hold together. The pureed lentils should almost guarantee that it will, but occasionally, things fall apart.
If the mixture is too dry, puree another two cups of the mixture as you did before. If it is too wet, add more breadcrumbs, 1/4 C. at a time.
The cakes can all be formed at once (not a bad idea) and placed in a single layer on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the cakes lightly with breadcrumbs before frying, which gives them a nice outer texture.
Fry the cakes in about 1/4” of hot olive or canola oil for about 3 minutes per side. Monitor the temperature of your oil and add more as necessary. I find that medium heat is just about right. If the breadcrumbs are burning in the pan as you add more cakes, that’s a sign that the oil is too hot. If the oil is not bubbling beneath the cakes, the heat is too low.
As the cakes cook, hold them in a 300 degree oven while you complete the batch. This recipe will make about fifteen 1 1/2” cakes.
Serve the cakes with a sauce of yogurt or sour cream, grated cucumber, smashed garlic, and more fresh dill.
Reheat any leftover cakes at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.