One day during summer break in high school, my mother took me to lunch at the posh The Longboat Key Club, where she worked in HR at the time. Lunch at “the club” meant finger bowls, white linens and posh French food. The first course was chicken liver paté with toast points. I grew up on a farm. We did not eat paté, although my mother clandestinely padded the occasional dish with chicken livers, which came free from the many chickens she routinely dispatched. I have blocked the bulk of those meals from my tender childhood memories.
But that afternoon, as I sat consciously aware of my table etiquette amid the seniors in their expensive golf attire, nothing in the world tasted as good as that paté. In lo the many years since then, some variation on paté has been in my appetizer/potluck arsenal. However, there’s a sad truth. Some people just can’t get jazzed about pulverized chicken, liver or even goose liver. Not to mention, it simply can’t be that good for you.
Enter in my continuous experiments with vegetarian paté. This one is my latest favorite. Mushrooms for flavor, a dose of lentils for protein and texture, all mixed with a hearty shot of herbs. Despite valiant attempts with angles and lighting, I admit, it looks a little like, well, poo. Don’t hold that against this dish. It’s yummy.
I often make this with French green lentils, which lends a sort of peppery flavor to the end result. However, feel free to use any kind of lentil. If you’ve got them, an ounce of dried mushrooms, rehydrated until soft in warm water, can be added to the mushrooms for an extra punch of flavor but that’s strictly optional.
¼ cup dried lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons mixed Italian herbs
¼ teaspoon cayenne or few drops hot sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon salt, grinds of coarse pepper
Something green for a garnish
Cook the lentils according to package directions. (Generally, you bring them to a boil for a couple of minutes, then cover and simmer until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.) Meanwhile, cook the garlic in the olive oil over medium-high heat until softened, about a minute or two. Add the mushrooms, dried herbs, cayenne, tomato paste, salt and a few grinds of pepper and stir thoroughly. You may need to add an extra tablespoon of olive oil to coat the mushrooms at this point. Cover and simmer until softened, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly until lentils finish cooking. Drain the lentils, combine with the mushroom mixture and process in a food processor until it’s smoothed to your liking. Check seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve with melba toast or crackers.