Last week’s chilly weather and first snowstorm arrived without much warning, taking me by surprise after the mild, not-really-winter we’ve enjoyed for the past few months. During such cold spells I need food that will warm me up quickly, preferably without too much effort. When I saw Florence Fabricant’s recipe for Lentils with Merguez in last week’s New York Times, I knew I had found my dish. A meal inspired by sunny North Africa was practically guaranteed to infuse our apartment with heat and comfort.
While I’m usually not one for casserole-type dishes, this recipe’s North African twist intrigued me. Three years ago, Jim and I spent our honeymoon in Morocco, where we explored the local cuisine and fragrant spice markets. If this casserole could simultaneously remind us of our trip and leave just one pot to clean, I was all for it. (Any memory of Morocco is welcome to us, as our camera was stolen on our way home and we don’t have any photos. But that’s a story for another time.)
Even though the recipe takes about an hour and a half from start to finish, it’s pretty low maintenance overall. Basically, merguez, onions and carrots are baked in the same pot with lentils, vegetable stock, and sun-dried tomatoes. In addition to the North African lamb sausage, cumin and Spanish smoked paprika contribute to the dish’s exotic vibe. After about an hour in the oven, a mixture of panko flakes, reserved merguez fat, and parsley is sprinkled over the top of the casserole and baked for 10 minutes at high heat, resulting in a bright and sunny breadcrumb crust.
Jim ramped up the spice factor with some harissa on the side, but I wanted to enjoy the casserole’s smoky comfort. The rich merguez complemented the pearl-like lentils and sweet sun-dried tomatoes while the panko crust made itself known with a subtle crunch here and there. Served with a simple salad and a glass of red wine as suggested by Ms. Fabricant, this meal indeed warmed me up as I had hoped.
The recipe is said to serve 6, so Jim and I needed three days to finish it. But for some reason, we didn’t tire of it; the memories of our summertime honeymoon in Morocco must have helped a little bit. And as promised, there was only one pot to clean.