Vegan MoFo 5: Bittersweet Radicchio with Lentils

Last Saturday at the Farmers Market, the most gorgeous head of radicchio confronted me—a pure snow-white base striping upward into a background of subdued magenta flecked with sea-foam green from Jones Valley Farm, my affectionately named “Grey Bin People” thanks to their fascinating selection of Italian-inspired produce displayed proudly in grey plastic bins.

Ain't she a beaut?

Snuggling her comfortably into my refrigerator, I gazed upon her unrivaled elegance for a week, contemplating possible culinary implementations. I’ve found that radicchio requires special attention in the kitchen to mellow its distinct bitterness, which explains why I hesitated to simply tear off a couple of leaves and throw them into a salad, lest its harsh raw flavor mar my admiration for this exquisite orb of purple chicory.

Thus, I scavenged my cookbook collection for a recipe worthy of my lovely radicchio. Many applications called for grilling or simply sauteeing, but my mood requested a more substantial dish. Lo and behold, The Urban Vegan by Dynise Balcavage features a hearty yet refined mix of herbed lentils, sweet onions, and wilted radicchio.

Bittersweet Radicchio with Lentils (Gluten Free, Soy Free, Nut Free)—Adapted from The Urban Vegan.

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water (Pacific Foods makes a great full-flavored broth with only 6% of your daily recommended sodium intake).
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup lentils (I used sprouted green lentils which cook in just 5 minutes, but you can use any type you like. I presume that French Le Puy lentils would be particularly nice.)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 small sweet red onions (such as cipollini), diced
  • 1 large clove garlic, sliced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large head radicchio, shredded (cut the head in half, remove its core, then lay it on its flat cut side and slice widthwise.)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp ume plum vinegar
  • 1 tbsp agave nectar

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock or water to a boil. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and lentils then cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes until the lentils are tender but still have a bite. (Al dente, you might say?) Drain of any excess broth.

Heat oil over medium-low heat in a wide-bottom pot. Add the onions, garlic, and pepper then saute until transluscent, about 10 minutes.

Add the radicchio to the pot and let it wilt into an unattractive brown mess for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat then add the vinegar, agave nectar, and lentils. Whoa! The radicchio’s “trademark purple hue should now magically return,” alleges Miss Balcavage.

I served this dish hot over a bed of quinoa with a side of broccoli, but you could also enjoy it chilled, at room temperature, or perhaps in a wrap.

 

The sweetness of the red onions plus the agave nectar provide a balance for the radicchio’s inherent bitterness. However, I wouldn’t recommend devouring huge servings of this, for you can still discern the harsh nature of chicory in the dish: interesting and unfamiliar in small quantities but overwhelming in large portions.

Local Ingredients: Red cipollini onions and radicchio from Jones Valley Farm, garlic from Brantmeier Family Farm.

Meal Checklist: Protein–sprouted lentils. Whole Grains–quinoa. Vegetable–radicchio, onion, and garlic. Leafy Green–broccoli.

Comment Provoking Questions: How do you feel about radicchio? Do you enjoy bitter tastes? Do any vegetables ever awe you with their sheer gorgeousness?

Until next time, Ali.

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