A Best of France selection.
Where else but in France would you find lentils in your hotel’s gift shop? At the Brivas, a pleasant riverside inn outside Le-Puy-en-Velay, guests may be puzzled by the sight of a cellophane bag of tiny, dark green lentils among other souvenir items in a display case. The innkeeper is proud to explain that these are no ordinary lentils, but lentilles vertes du Puy, the most tender and flavorful of lentils and the first vegetable to be granted France’s coveted AOC status. Cultivated on the basalt plateaus of the Velay region, under volcanic crags crowned with shrines and castles, the lentils, like all members of the Lens family, are packed with protein and fiber, but their unusually delicate flavor comes from the strong mineral content of the soil, rich in iron, magnesium and phosphorus. AOC rules ensure that they are grown without fertilizer or irrigation, and since the region lies in the rain shadow of the Massif Central, the plants bask in one of France’s hottest and sunniest climates. Much smaller than other lentils, they are also less starchy and richer in flavorful natural sugars; they also cook quickly thanks to a thin outer skin. They can be served hot or cold, in soups or as a side dish, and enthusiastic fans enjoy them as a salad crunchy with minced shallots and brightened by a walnut oil vinaigrette. Lentilles du Puy are widely available in France; in the States, look for them in fine grocery stores, shops that carry imported foods and on www.amazon.com.
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of France Today; updated in January 2011