Everyday French made easy: Roasted Shrimp and Green Lentils

by Terry B on November 23, 2011

Shrimp roasted with garlic, scallions and tarragon tops French green lentils for a quick, satisfying, quintessentially French meal. Recipe below.

For all the complex, multi-stepped recipes that give French cuisine its daunting reputation, everyday French home cooking is filled with countless utterly simple dishes as perfect and impressive in their own way as the hautest restaurant cuisine.

Wini Moranville’s new book, The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day, proves this with recipe after recipe. La bonne femme is French for “the good wife,” the introduction tells us, but in French cuisine, “it refers to a style of cooking—namely, the fresh, honest, and simple cuisine served at home, no matter who does the actual cooking, femme, mari (husband), or partenaire domestique (significant other).”

Dorie Greenspan says, “It’s les bonnes femmes who keep the culinary traditions of France alive. Cooking the simple classics and the daily meals that form the canon of the cuisine.” And, she adds, “Wini has given us everything we need to do the same, whether our table is in Paris or Peoria.”

Flipping through our review copy of The Bonne Femme Cookbook, I could see exactly what Greenspan means. One recipe after another caught my eye, both as something wonderful to eat and something totally doable in the kitchen, honest and non-fussy. I’ve said in the past that if we get one really good recipe out of a cookbook, it’s earned its place on our bookshelves. I can already tell that we’ll be cooking many dishes from this one.

As we slide seriously toward winter, the recipe I decided to make first was of course a summery salad, with room temperature cooked lentils, Belgian endive, watercress, butter lettuce and a mustardy vinaigrette, topped with warm roasted shrimp. I winterized it, though, serving the lentils hot and dispensing with the vinaigrette and most of the greenery (I kept the Belgian endive for its nice bitter edge). The result was a warm, satisfying, season-appropriate dish. No one flavor took over, but occasionally, a bit of tarragon or the crisp greenness of a scallion matchstick would make its presence known, then meld with the other flavors in the dish.

We’ve proselytized for lentils on these pages in the past—most recently when Marion made Turkish Style Red Lentil Soup with Chard. Besides being healthy and quick cooking, they’re just plain good to eat. To cook the French green lentils (Lentilles du Puy) that form the base of this dish, I sautéed some garlic in olive oil, then added the lentils, some water and some salt to the pot and simmered everything. That was it—no stock, no herbs, no onions or other root vegetables. I expected nothing much when I sampled a forkful for doneness from the pot, but they were already delicious.

Roasted Shrimp and Green Lentils
Serves 2 generously
Adapted from The Bonne Femme Cookbook

2 cups lentils (preferably French green lentils)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced, divided
4 cups water
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3/4 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
3 scallions, divided
1 large head Belgian endive

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Rinse, drain and pick over the lentils. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over a medium flame. Sauté half the garlic until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Stir in lentils and add water to the pan. Season with salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until lentils are firm but tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, roast the shrimp. Toss shrimp with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Slice the white portion and some of the green top of 1 scallion thinly and add to shrimp, along with tarragon and remaining garlic. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Roast shrimp until just cooked through and opaque, about 8 to 10 minutes.

While lentils and shrimp are cooking, slice the 2 remaining scallions into matchsticks, using the white portions and some of the green tops. Trim the root end of the Belgian endive and halve lengthwise. Cut out tough core and slice the endive crosswise into 1/2-inch slices.

When lentils are done, drain and return to the pot. Stir in the sliced endive and adjust seasonings. Divide lentils between two shallow serving bowls and top with scallion matchsticks. Using a slotted spoon, divide shrimp between serving bowls, spooning over lentils. Serve immediately.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Wini Moranville November 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Thank you so much for this lovely post and a great photo! I love the way you “winterized” the dish. Adapting recipes according to taste, seasonality, and what you have on hand is completely in the spirit of “bonne femme” cooking! MERCI!

Meg November 23, 2011 at 5:19 pm

This looks so doable — I love the combo of shrimp & tarragon, and a bed of lentils sounds perfect. Thanks for sharing.

Terry B November 23, 2011 at 7:08 pm

And thank you, Wini, for the comment! I look forward to trying your original version of this dish next summer. Along with many other recipes from your lovely cookbook between now and then, of course.

Thanks, Meg! And that’s the point of The Bonne Femme Cookbook—that everyday French cooking done at home is absolutely doable.

Eeka November 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Sounds absolutely delicious! btw, that must be a VERY large shrimp, since 3/4 of it feeds 2 generously… ;)

Terry B November 24, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Ha! Great catch, Eeka. I of course meant 3/4 pound of shrimp. Yeah, if 3/4 of a single shrimp fed two generously, it would probably be classified as a lobster.

Shauna November 24, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Looks great! I will give this dish a try. I love a simple dish with these great flavors.

I was recently at the annual shrimp festival in Port Isabel, Tx- and tried some marvelous shrimp dishes with great accompaniments, my favorite of which was a warm mango salsa; I almost passed it up b/c I thought the cilantro in it would be too much. It turned out to be a nice subtle addition! 2nd fave was garlic and cocoanut. Dreamy to think about these dishes now! Shrimp is great stuff!!

Happy Thanksgiving to you, Marion and the girls!

love cooking November 25, 2011 at 7:38 am

I love shrimps, but not lentils. I am thinking that anything I can substitute the lentils and I can still enjoy this yummy dish. :)

Terry B November 25, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Shauna, shrimp and cilantro get along famously, as you discovered. We had a lovely Thanksgiving—I hope you did too!

Love Cooking—You could try the shrimp over rice. It wouldn’t be the same dish, but it would still be quite good. If you did that, I think I would toss the cooked shrimp with the Belgian endive at the last minute, not the rice. It does give a nice bitter note to the dish.

Wini Moranville November 25, 2011 at 3:11 pm

love cooking: You might reconsider your anti-lentil stance. Have you ever had French Green Lentils from Le Puy? They make all the difference in the world. Consider seeking them out (at Whole Foods or a specialty food shop).

Amy @ Chef Basket November 25, 2011 at 4:04 pm

This sounds like an interesting recipe to try out. I’ve never considered mixing lentils and shrimp together so this will be a new experiment for me. Lentils are not only tasty but very good for you. For those who don’t like them you should try.

Terry B November 25, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Thanks, Wini and Amy, for joining the conversation here. The lentils really are a great part of this recipe. And because they’re so versatile and used in so many widely varied cuisines, it might be that those who don’t like lentils might simply not like them prepared a certain way. You are right in urging people to give them another try. That said, even though I like to think of myself as a reasonably adventurous and curious eater, there are some foods that I simply don’t like. (Barley, of all things, is one.) So if any particular ingredient is a deal breaker for someone, I understand.

love cooking November 26, 2011 at 7:13 am

Thanks for all the suggestions. Lentils always not my food, but maybe I will give it a try again. Just like what Terry B said, cooking method really has great influences on the food ingredients. Good cook, good food. :)

Anita November 28, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Hi – this is me being grumpy again. 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh tarragon? If I had a garden – in California or Provence! – this would be doable. But oddly enough, none of the grocery stores around here sell fresh tarragon by the tablespoonfuls. Instead I have to buy a honking big sheaf or bunch or whatever you call the bundle at the store. So then I would have 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh tarragon – and the rest to go bad. Harumph!

I will try this recipe… but being the barbarian that I am, I shall use dried tarragon. Oh, and I started shopping at a different grocery store, and I saw duck legs! In my basket they went! I set your recipe for braised duck legs aside a few months ago – will be trying that later this week!

Wini Moranville November 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Hello Anita! I completely understand why you don’t want to use fresh tarragon in the middle of winter. And making substitutions is totally in the spirit of bonne femme cooking.

In fact, two pages of my book go into the topic of substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs. French women use dried herbs all the time.

You can use dried tarragon in this recipe–but I would use 2 teaspoons dried tarragon (crushed) and then add 1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley. Parsley is abundant and cheap and will keep quite a while in the fridge, and you can use it for all kinds of things.

With this dried-fresh combo, you’ll get the tarragon flavor profile we seek, plus a little bit of fresh-green-herb quality from the fresh parsley.

Of course, you can also just use dried tarragon….but I truly like the freshness that the parsley brings.

Anita November 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm

That I can do! Thank you very much for your suggestion.

Terry B November 28, 2011 at 8:04 pm

How cool is this, having the actual cookbook author volunteering at the Help Desk? Thank you so much, Wini! The idea of using dried tarragon and then adding parsley for fresh greenery is perfect, of course! Anita, I understand your frustration—we’ll often buy a big batch of fresh herbs for a particular recipe and have the best of intentions for using up the rest. We all know how that goes. I’m happy to report that one grocery store near me has started selling smaller packs of fresh herbs for just a dollar. Makes so much more sense for those herbs you don’t use daily.

Enjoy the duck legs! And make sure you let the store know you did, so they’ll keep stocking them.

Maia November 29, 2011 at 1:30 am

This sounds delicious, simple, and healthy. Thank you for sharing – and how cool that the cookbook author is participating in your comments section.

I have a few cookbooks in French in my library from my days living in Paris, but I hardly reach for them because of the annoyance of having to whip out my scale and otherwise use the metric system. Wini’s book sounds very interesting!

Wini Moranville November 29, 2011 at 1:59 am

Maia–thanks for your comments. I, too, have a slew of cookbooks and food magazines I’ve picked up in France….and they do continue to provide inspiration for meals. Yet it’s true that that slogging through them can be a hassle. That’s one of the reasons I wrote my book–to make the kind of cooking you find in today’s French cookbooks and magazines accessible to the American cook.

Thanks again for your note!

Anita November 30, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I made duck legs the first night (never having touched duck before, I was grateful for the detailed instructions), shrimp the second (with the substitution as given), and both were fantabulous! I may have to stop being the resident grump if this keeps up…

Terry B November 30, 2011 at 11:58 pm

I know what you mean, Maia. As much as my digital scale is one of my most beloved kitchen tools, I prefer cooking by volume, not weight—and I want to measure my ingredients in cups, not milliliters.

Wini, thank you so much for taking part in the conversation here. You really added a lot.

And Anita, you crack me up! Glad the duck and the shrimp were big hits.

Wini Moranville December 1, 2011 at 1:24 am

Anita, that is music to my ears! Thanks for letting me know.

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