Black lentils are the power players in this vegetarian lasagna

Black lentils are the power players in this vegetarian lasagna

This is a coincidence for you – or is it? The last time I wrote about cookbook author Nick Sharma, it was when I loved a recipe from his previous book, “The Flavor Equation,” for dal makhani, a luxurious Indian black lentil soup.

This time, the recipe from his latest book, the wonderful “Vegetable Table,” that piqued my interest is a lentil lasagna, which brings warm spices — and a decidedly funky flair — to the Italian classic. When I called him via Zoom to discuss the matter, the first thing I mentioned was that I had once again chosen a recipe from him that included one of my favorite legumes. Clearly, this says more about me and my long-standing obsession with beans than it does about him.

Get the recipe: Lentil lasagna

In fact, Sharma’s cookbook covers a lot more ground than grains. With his distinctive focus on science, the former engineer looks at vegetables through the lens of their plant families (similar to the way Deborah Madison approached “plant literacy” and Bryant Terry approached “the vegetable kingdom”), with an unparalleled sense of creativity and accessibility . “I could talk a lot about food science, but that should be for the home cook,” he told me from his office in his home in Los Angeles. “It has to be practical and applicable, so that even after I’m gone… the book will still be valuable.”

As a result, Sharma spends as much time writing about the differences between vegetables in the same family as he does about their commonalities. Take potatoes for example: “I realized that vegetables from other families, which are biologically unrelated, if they contain starch, a lot of the same technologies intersect because they are biochemically similar but biologically and family-wise very different.”

This brings us back to black lentils, which are part of the pea or bean family, but don’t require the same cooking technique that Sharma calls HTC (hard to cook) beans. Lentils absorb water more quickly and can usually be cooked in less than 30 minutes. Black lentils take a little longer than other varieties, but the same quality helps them maintain their shape and stay a little firm while cooking.

Why do we put them in lasagna? These tough lentils contribute to what Sharma calls “texture interplay” in his take on the dish. He often puts dal makhani on nachos and in lasagna, so for the “Vegetable Table” he decided to simplify the approach to lasagna.

There’s no arguing with the simple fact that what comes out of this mixture (and a spice blend of garam masala, Aleppo-style pepper, and turmeric) straddles the lines between comforting and exciting, satisfying and healthy.

There are two shortcuts that can help turn lasagna into a weeknight-friendly meal: The first, of course, is uncooked pasta, which lets you skip it — well, it’s in the name. The second is a can. If you’re lucky enough to find canned black lentils like the Westbrae Naturals brand (I’ve also seen microwavable bags at Target), they can speed up this recipe considerably.

As Sharma, who is always looking for home cooking-friendly methods, said in reference to canned beans: “If it makes cooking easier, use it. If you want to soak your beans and cook them from scratch, do it. The only person who should have an opinion In this is you.”

Get the recipe: Lentil lasagna

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