When you boil sweet onions they become soft and the center can be removed with a spoon, leaving a shell which begs to be stuffed. In our case it’s stuffed with lentils and tomatoes. Slater calls brown lentils the “sparrows of the pulse world.” He won me over with that turn of phrase…
Lentil stuffed onions is one of those meals where the individual components are cooked separately, then assembled into a final dish. It will take about two hours from start to finish, but you could save yourself a little bit of effort by using already prepared lentils. The onions could also be prepared ahead of time, either by boiling them as in the original recipe, or maybe in the oven or slow cooker.
The stuffed onions are finished in the oven with a rich, thick, cheesy bechamel that is almost mousse like after it’s been baked. As I was assembling the dish for the oven I found myself wondering if the flavor would change if the onions were cooked ahead of time as mentioned. I’ll revisit that idea in the fall when it’s a cooler and the heartiness of this dish will be better appreciated.
The bay leaves make this dish in my opinion. Make sure yours are fresh and fragrant. Not only do they help mask the smell of the boiling onions (a claim Mr Slater made that I was eager to test out…) but they add a lovely flavor to the cheese sauce.
Depending on the size of the onions you might have some lentils leftover. You can scatter them in the bottom of the casserole dish or serve them as part of another meal.
- 4 large or 6 smaller sweet onions, peeled.
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 - 2 leeks, green parts removed, chopped
- olive oil
- 2 - 4 cloves garlic
- 1 cup brown lentils
- 1 can chopped tomatoes (12 - 16 ounces, whatever is sold)
- the innards of the onions, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup grated cheese (I used a pizza blend)
- grated parmesan for sprinkling over top
- chopped parsley for garnish
- Put the peeled onions and bay leaves in a large stock pot or dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat until an active simmer. Cook until tender and a skewer is easily inserted through an onion. It will take between 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the onions.
- Drain and allow to cool.
- While the onions are cooking, sweat the leeks and garlic in a small amount of olive oil. Add the lentils, chopped tomatoes and their juice. Then refill the tomato can with water and pour over top.
- Cook over medium heat until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Start the sauce at this time.
- When the onions are cool enough to handle use a spoon to remove the insides. Chop the cooked onions and stir into the lentils. Set aside until the sauce is ready.
- To make the sauce, heat the oil in the bottom of a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 - 3 minutes until the flour has changed color.
- Stir in the milk and use a whisk to break up the roux. Continue to stir for a couple of minutes until the sauce smoothes and thickens. Reduce the heat to low and add the bay leaves.
- Continue to cook the sauce for another 20 minutes or so, stirring once in awhile. Stir in the grated cheese and let it melt.
- Start heating the oven to 350°F/180°C at this point.
- To assemble the dish, fill the onions with the lentils. It's not a big deal if the onions tear. Just arrange them around the lentils. If you have leftover lentils, put them in the bottom of the casserole. Place the onions on top then spoon and spread the sauce around them. The sauce will be thick.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce is golden brown and bubbly.
Don’t forget to drop by I Heart Cooking Clubs to see more Nigel Slater recipes or perhaps share one of your own.