Lentils are one of my favorite dinner staples, especially during the fall and winter. They are cheap, quicker cooking than dry beans, healthy and, most importantly, taste delicious. I like to put lentils in soup, make a warm fall salad with lentils and sausage or, for a lighter meal, serve them with salmon. I decided to try baking some lentils with chicken pieces and I love this easy, one-dish meal.
I use a dry brine here to make the chicken more flavorful and tender, but you could also just sprinkle some pepper and salt on the chicken pieces before baking it with the lentils. Most dry brines call for very coarse salt and, consequently, a long brining time of several hours. I use a less coarse salt (coarse kosher salt rather than very coarse sea salt that is often called for) and this means a shorter brining time as the salt dissolves more quickly and penetrates the chicken faster. Just make sure, if using kosher salt like I did, not to brine the chicken longer than a couple hours and to rinse it thoroughly, as it does get too salty quickly.
I realize that Juniper Berries are not a normal kitchen staple, but I love the earthy flavor that they impart to the chicken, and they’re not super expensive. I love finding new flavors to cook with and Juniper Berries are an easy way to add depth to the flavor of this dish. They are readily available online and I’ve heard that they are also available at most Whole Foods stores.
I served this dish with some fresh salad and crusty, whole-grain bread for a filling Sunday dinner that can be mostly prepared ahead. Just pre-cook the lentils and spread the vegetables over them in the baking dish, then refrigerate until ready to use.
- 2 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (I used a couple of chicken breasts and several chicken legs)
- 1/4 cup coarse Kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon dried thyme, divided
- 2 Tablespoons Juniper berries, crushed (using a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 2 cups dry brown lentils, rinsed and picked over to remove any stones
- 1 medium sweet onion, cut into chunks
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup white wine
- Pat the chicken pieces dry and place in a shallow baking dish. In a small bowl, stir together the kosher salt, 1/2 Tablespoon dried thyme, crushed Juniper berries and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Rub the salt mixture on all sides of the chicken pieces, making sure to cover them evenly. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate chicken for 1 to 2 hours.
- After chicken has brined for a couple hours, remove it from the refrigerator and rinse under cold water; pat chicken dry and return to refrigerator until needed.
- Preheat oven to 400º. Add 4 cups of cold water to a medium saucepan and stir in the lentils. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Continue to simmer about 15 minutes, or until lentils are just beginning to become tender. Drain lentils and rinse with cold water.
- Pour the lentils into the bottom of a 9 X 13 inch baking pan and scatter the onion and carrot evenly over the top. Mix together the minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 Tablespoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Scatter half of this mixture over the vegetables and lentils. Arrange the chicken pieces over the vegetables in the baking dish them scatter the remaining garlic mixture over the chicken. In a measure cup, combine the 1/2 cup white wine with 1 cup water. Pour the wine mixture into the baking pan.
- Place the chicken and lentils in the preheated oven and cook until chicken is browned, about 45 minutes, rotating once during cooking. Once chicken is cooked through and well browned, remove from oven and tent with foil. Allow chicken to sit for about 10 minutes before serving.