With these two front runners as models, inspirations and catalysts for extrapolation, I set about looking at flavors that would make unique and tasty legumes. I have had my heart set on hoisin for some time, just after the time Wylie debuted his lentils and I had a chance to try them, over a year ago. Unfortunately, I often let ideas mull, fester and get dusty. I finally opted to take the idea off the shelf and put it into action. Once again I tripped. I did not have any hoisin sauce. That should not be a problem for most chefs. For me it turned a crack in the sidewalk into a brick wall. Instead of hoisin I fell back upon my current crutch, Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper lentils are tasty. The results were right it’s just that Dr. Pepper is no hoisin sauce. Blasphemy is being muttered as I write this, though it is true. Actually the flavors are closer than I ever imagined, it is the overall savoriness of hoisin that makes it a front-runner in the flavored legume category.
I finally was able to get some hoisin sauce. As I noted, the base is a combination of the hoisin and coffee accented with a few other ingredients to focus the key flavors. With the base prepared we set about dropping the hoisin into a calcium bath and letting the legumes form. Once the lentils were made a quick rinse in water and they were ready to use. For our regular readers you will remember us using the hoisin lentils paired with the doomed lamb shank. The blend of cucumber puree and hoisin was tasty, very Peking Duck condiment, though it felt too cute, too contrived, and too wrong.
We had created the lentils of my imagination and now I did not have a use for them. That is frustrating. What makes lentils really tasty is the combination of cooked lentils with a puree of lentils, a cream of sorts which coats the legumes with a rich, decadent and flavorful coating, a secondary carrier of flavor and a supporting texture. We used to use pureed lentils to make this textural contrast. Then, we thought about supporting flavors. What if we used a seasonal ingredient to create this creamy medium instead of the lentil itself? In the summer we could use sweet corn, apples and pears in the fall, in the winter chestnuts and parsnips would be wonderful associates to the steely lentil. When spring rolls around fresh peas, asparagus green and white as well as spring onions are all wonderful accompaniments. Since we are in the middle of spring and we are working with artichokes it was not a large leap for me to think about an artichoke puree with our hoisin lentils.
We took the braised artichokes and pureed them with some of their cooking liquid. A small amount of xanthan gum added body and richness to the puree without the need for additional fat. When the puree was silky smooth we strained it and then folded in the hoisin lentils. The artichoke puree filled in the voids between the lentils creating a harmonious whole. The combination of the lentils and the artichoke is sweet, bitter, earthy, decadent, bright and still constrained. Of course we are only part way home. We have the lentil and artichoke ragout though not a complete dish. That is all right, because the time for everything comes around and with this in our repertoire I do not think it is too long before the final dish shows its face.