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COOKING FOR TWO: Leeks, lentils base for quick fried halloumi meal

by Ann Maloney, The Washington Post | October 13, 2021 at 1:55 a.m.
Leeks and Lentils with Fried Halloumi (For The Washington Post/Rey Lopez)

When you build something, people always say that the key is a solid foundation. That's what this dish, Leeks and Lentils With Fried Halloumi, provides — a hearty base for building a weeknight meal and more.

If you've got home-cooked lentils, use those, but reaching for canned lentils means you can pull this dish together quickly any night of the week. First, you saute leeks and garlic, add some stock and then flavor with a little tomato paste, mustard, thyme and lemon juice. After this combination simmers for a bit, stir in handfuls of fresh spinach for a savory mixture that can be the foundation for building vegetarian or meaty dishes.

For this recipe from "The Slimming Foodie" cookbook by Pip Payne, who writes about healthful cooking on a blog of the same name, the lentils are topped with sliced, fried halloumi — and it adds a tasty, salty, chewy balance to the mild lentils. This filling dish comes together in 30 minutes.

But the reason I chose this dish is because, as Payne noted, the lentil base tastes great with so many things. She recommends roasted root vegetables, or, if you're a meat eater, sliced fried chicken breast or pan-fried salmon filets. Or, let each person in your household decide what to put on top. We tried it with leftover pork and even ate the lentils as-is as a quick lunch.

Leeks and Lentils with Fried Halloumi

  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
  • 4 medium leeks, trimmed, cleaned and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or finely grated
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans green lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1 generous cup unsalted vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon or stone-ground mustard
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 5 ounces halloumi cheese, sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 2 large handfuls of baby spinach, coarsely chopped
  • Small handful of fresh parsley leaves, coarse stems removed, finely chopped, for serving

In a medium, deep-sided skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the leeks and saute, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until aromatic, about 1 minute.

Add the lentils, stock, tomato paste, mustard, thyme and lemon juice. Lightly season with the salt and pepper, then stir well and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a large, dry nonstick skillet, add the cheese slices in a single layer and sear until golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes per side; transfer to a flat plate or tray.

When the lentils are done, stir the spinach into it until wilted, then remove from the heat. Divide the mixture among serving bowls, top with the halloumi slices and scatter with the parsley. Serve warm.

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Nutrition information: Each serving (1 1/3 cups lentils and 4 slices of halloumi) contains approximately 637 calories, 39 g protein, 15 g fat, 91 g carbohydrate (16 g sugar), 37 mg cholesterol, 538 mg sodium and 26 g fiber.

Carbohydrate choices: 6

Recipe adapted from "The Slimming Foodie" by Pip Payne (Octopus, 2021)

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