In December, we served a lot of beluga lentils, mainly with grilled Steelhead Trout. You can see a photo of how we plated the trout in the Chipotle-Glazed Coho Salmon blogpost from October; the black disk under the salmon is beluga lentils. Many, many customers tasted beluga lentils for the first time in December and discovered for themselves why we chefs love them so: they have a wonderful texture and a round, earthy flavor that serves well as a neutral foil for other foods.
Customers naturally wanted to know two things. Why are they called beluga? Where do I get them?
The first question is easy. As you can see, belugas are just another form of cultivated lentil (Lens culinaris) that happen to be tiny, black, spherical, and shiny; terms that also describe beluga caviar, after which the lentils are named.
The second question is tough. I can buy these lentils, like all my lentils, in large quantities from any number of wholesalers. But where can you get them in retail quantities? That, I'm not sure. Perhaps our readers know.
If you happen on some, cooking them is easy. Cover them in water and cook them for 15-20 minutes until they are soft enough for your taste. I always add a bay leaf and some mirepoix to my lentils. We often finish the cooked lentils at service with sautéed shallots and a touch of butter, perhaps a bit of pancetta if we are not doing a vegetarian dish.