We visited a couple restaurants in Los Angeles on Sunday to celebrate my birthday. I rarely have particular plans of what I'd like to do to celebrate, but I know specifically where and what I'd like to eat. May will be a month full of events. There will be a number of birthdays, mothers day, wedding season for Hugh, a new niece coming any day now and all sorts of things in between. Cooking, amidst all the going out to eat and desserts these days bring, seems less intriguing but it's also the place I get recharged. I like being alone in the kitchen, no music, watching ingredients come together and trying something new. Some of that inspiration comes from visiting fun restaurants, so birthday months always leave me full of ideas.

Both Gjelina and Tasting Kitchen are places we've visited before, but I love the ambiance at both. Most restaurant menus these days seem to give you a pretty extensive list of what is in each dish, boasting the name of the farm that it's produce is from or which variety of this, that or the other the food item is. I care about those details when I'm picking out food to cook at home, but while browsing the Tasting Kitchen's menu, so minimal and vague, I realized how that simplicity spoke a confidence in their dishes - that they didn't need to romanticize them to the guests. In typical LA fashion you can't change or substitute anything, so what is the point in knowing every ingredient anyway? So we got two appetizers: braised leeks + burrata and broccolini + lentils... so unassuming. Both great, but my favorite part were the lentils that had a caramelized sweetness to them and bits of crunchy breadcrumbs. Sweet lentils! A new preparation to me, but Hugh would barely share with me so I was determined to recreate a portion I could savor all to myself. Leeks are naturally sweet, and the braising gives them a silkiness that melts along side the lentils. Such a simple preparation for such a glorious texture. Below is a recipe that mimicks a combination of those appetizers. It would make an excellent light lunch, a side dish for a number of proteins, or a tasty bed for poached or fried eggs.


Inspired by the Tasting Kitchen, Venice Beach with some tips on leek braising from Vegetarian Times

If you're skeptical of the sweetness, start with less muscovado and work up to a point you like it. A light brown sugar will work as well. If cooking these for more people, I would guess you could double or triple the amount of leeks and bake them in a 9x13 pan covered with foil. However, you will likely need less liquid than a direct multiplication. Eyeball it, you want the liquid just more than halfway up the side of the leeks. If you give this a try, let me know how it turns out.


3 large leeks, dark green parts removed

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 cup low sodium vegetable broth

2 tsp. agave or honey

pinch of salt + pepper


// lentils//

2/3 cup black or green lentils, rinsed

1/2 T. unsalted butter

1 tsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. muscovado sugar (or light brown sugar)

2 tsp. rice vinegar


1/4 cup fresh toasted breadcrumbs (great tips here)

3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley

Trim the dark green parts from the top of the leeks, and just enough off the bottom to leave the ends it tact (this holds them together). Halve them lengthwise and remove any dirt.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add the leeks, cut side down and cook about 3 minutes until browned. Drizzle the tsp. of olive oil on top, flip them over and cook another two minutes. Add the broth, agave and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Turn the heat to a gentle simmer, partially cover and cook for about 25 minutes until they are buttery soft.

While the leeks are cooking, start your lentils. Put the lentils, about 1 1/4 cups water and a pinch of salt in a pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook until the lentils are cooked through, adding a bit more water if needed, and cook off any excess water in the end. If the leeks are done by this point, just take them off the heat and leave them covered, they're fine.

Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Add the lentils, sprinkle in the muscovado, rice vinegar, pinch of salt and pepper and saute to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Plate the leeks with the lentils on top and garnish with breadcrumbs and parsley. Enjoy warm.


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Reader Comments (60)

Gorgeous photos! This dish looks absolutely delicious, yum! :)

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersara

this looks incredible; can't wait to give the recipe & new-to-me leek braising a try! you always always inspire wonderful new things for me. happy belated birthday :o)

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterheather

Oh wow, I really didn't have any idea you could do it, that's the good thing of going out and visiting restaurants from time to time --for new ideas and inspiration. I just saw a sweet lentil granola where lentils have been used in a sweet dish, i could imagine some sort of cookies where lentils have been pureed, but never ever like that! So cool, i will ry them, perhaps with less sugar as a first time like you suggest. Thanks for sharing, xx

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterValeria

Very intrigued on the brown sugar. I'm a sucker for braised leeks. So when I get my act together enough to buy some (and some lentils, I might add) I will certainly report back. ;)

Awesome! This sounds so light and delicious!

Recipe looks fantastic, but I have a quick question. How do you manage to thoroughly clean your leeks if you don't separate all the layers? I have always been hesitant to leave then intact because of my disdain for grit, I'd love to hear your tips!

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlaurie

Happy belated birthday, Sara! Sounds like you had a great day. My birthday is on Christmas so I never get to go out to eat at my favorite restaurants on the big day. I'm really intrigued by this recipe, it sounds and looks amazing!

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCookie and Kate

"SWEET LENTILS!".... I feel like this could replace the overused "Holy Cow!" You are on to something here! (As usual...) ;)

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercourtney

Mmm, this looks delicious! Happy birthday, by the way.

We're going to LA + Palm Springs for our honeymoon, and Gjelina is the one place that I'm dying to try! I'm glad to hear you recommend it, because I have a tough time finding places to eat in cities I've never visited before.

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnni

This looks stunning. Leeks and lentils are two of my favorite foods as well!

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah M.

I love when I have that moment in a restaurant where a flavor or ingredient just hits me, and I want to run home and re-create it! May is a busy month for me, always, and I'm looking forward to celebrating my birthday at a restaurant that I hope will inspire some new experiments in my kitchen. I hope your birthday was lovely, Sara! x

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKasey

Looks so delicious. Love how you left the leek bottoms on - clean but layers intact. Brilliant. + Happy Happy Birthday!

Ah, I love leeks. I wish my CSA would send me some. I've never actually fixed them like this but this is definitely something I would order in a restaurant. I can see why you took part of each appetizer and put them together in your own dish. Sweet lentils (thought I've never tried them that way) seem destined to share a plate with leeks!

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

@laurie - once a good portion of the top is off and you halve them, you can get into the layers pretty well, just be gentle!

May 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterSara

oh my. i'm almost speechless this looks so amazingly wonderful. with the photos and your description...i can almost taste the deliciousness! thanks for continuing to inspire. i have a number of wonderful spring recipes that i'm looking forward to cooking up, but this one just jumped to the top of the list! best wishes.

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersjillian

Thank you so much for introducing me to sweet lentils! I love that about the online food don't have to live everywhere at once to enjoy the spectrum of insights, you can read about it! Happy Birthday.

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Happy Birthday! I am loving the simplistic quality of these photos, per usual. You two are an amazing team. I cannot wait for both the photos + recipes in your book.

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Just saw the most amazing Leeks ever... About 1 ft Long at the torrance farmers market and had no idea what to do with them. Now this!!!! Amazing, thank you :)

This looks fantastic. I can't wait to try this!

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterileana

Was home sick today, so couldn't make it to the store and made this with asparagus instead - it was really lovely. Can't wait to try it with leeks, which I've never had braised.

Thank you for this, Sara!

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna H.

Cool use of muscovado sugar! Where do you usually find it?

you always succeed in making me hungry. good job!

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjocee

Another dish that I would just devour... I've always enjoyed featuring leaks in recipes but this really lets it shine.

Where do you buy your lentils??

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

It always seems like a bit of a shame to slice up gorgeous leeks into little bits. Sounds silly, but I always love when dishes showcase the natural shape of vegetables. This one is lovely! Thank you.

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterautumn

I love leeks and lentils together - so earthy! And this is totally my kind of weeknight meal. I've never left my leeks whole like that and it looks so elegant and rustic.

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkickpleat

How wonderful to discover a new blog through Saveur's "favorite blogs". Great photography and delicious wholesome recipes...I can't wait to read more.

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThyme (Sarah)

Just writing to say that I’ve nominated you for the ‘One Lovely Blog’ Award! Your blog inspires me ... so thank you! (For more information about the award, and how to pass it on, please stop by

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRuth Richardson

Oh wow! This looks really good!

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThea

i just love the way you think. and eat.


May 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermolly

This was phenom! Made a few small adjustments because I didn't have all the ingredients at home, but WOW. My eyes were popping out of my head. DELISH!

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I have a big bag of lentils in my cupboard, and I was planning on using them to make soup, but this looks so much better.
Sweet lentils! Perfect. {and happy belated birthday!}

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersarah

That presentation is simply gorgeous! I've pre-ordered your cookbook and can't wait to get cooking from it.


May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKacie

So timely! I've had a bunch of leeks from the farmers markets sitting in my fridge looking at me since Saturday and now I know what to do with them, thank you!

May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorgia

I love the way you write your blogs! Yummy, yummy! Looks delicious!!!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnne H

I made this last night on the fly with some leftover leeks I had on hand. I had never tried braising them, so I wasn't sure how things would turn out. The flavor was SO wonderful and it was very easy and quick. Definitely making this again!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Awesome dish - the braised leeks were wonderful and it was so easy to make. Next time, I'll add crunchier breadcrumbs (used panko as that is all I had). Even meat-eater husband said it was a keeper.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterncapuana

A perfect flavor combination of this recipe! Great food presentation too.

This looks awesome- I'm a huge fan of both lentils and leeks.The breadcrumbs are a great touch too.


May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine

This is a first for me, sweet lentils. I'm really curious how this would taste, so might just have to give it a go myself tomorrow (I even have leeks in the fridge now, so no excuse).

As usual, STUNNING photos.

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershuhan

Update -- I made this with turbinado cane sugar instead of muscovado and it was great. The leeks didn't come out intact (long story) but I served them like spaghetti with the lentils on top. It got a big thumbs up at the dinner table and the leftover lentils have been great.

I just made this the other night and it was delicious! I topped my leeks and lentils with a poached egg and the yolk created a lovely sauce. I highly recommend it! Thank you for this awesome recipe!

May 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin

quick easy and DELICIOUS!!!
Thanks so much!

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Thank you for reminding me how much I love lentils! I made this the other night for my boyfriend and I and it was delicious!

June 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorgia

Lovely! Hugh, do you use VSCO in your editing, by any chance? =)

June 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

I just love your blog - for it's health, beauty, and originality. And you have, quite honestly, some of the best food blog photos I've seen:) I'm super excited to try this recipe. I get a weekly local food box and it's nearly time to start receiving more leeks than I know what to do with, so this will help prevent any waste! <3

June 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjessi

Made this last night and WOW!!!! So so tasty!! Going to share with everyone :)

Delicious. Simple. Love it!

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMariela Alvarez Toro

Lentils with sugar?! Wild--I'll try it!

And your photos are beautiful!

August 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBettina

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