Lentil Walnut Pâté

The first job I had in San Francisco was at a gluten- and dairy-free wholesale bakery called Crave. The company consisted of myself, another baker, and the owner. We baked out of a communal kitchen in the ‘Dogpatch’ district of San Francisco, which housed a couple of other caterers and a (now well-known) San Francisco charcuterie maker.

Our table sat next to ‘the pig guy,’ as I called him in my head, and while Amber and I were cutting up hundreds of pretty little organic brownies on our steel table, the pig guy would be hacking up a whole pig four feet away on the next table over. Being incredibly squeamish, I found this horrifying, and oftenhad to stare at the grisly deed for hours until I’d pluck up the courage to ask Amber to switch sides with me.

Sometimes I would open the compost bin to dump in our eggshells and used parchment paper, and the vacant eyes of a pig’s head would stare back at me (when the pig guy wasn’t using it to make headcheese, that is). One day, the pig guy brought a vat of burgundy liquid into the walk-in. Innocently thinking it was some kind of red wine reduction, I asked after the contents. ‘You don’t want to know,’ he said darkly. And I’ll never forget themorning when the bell rang before the pig guy had arrived for his daily butchering and grinding. A man stood outside with a pig in a large plastic bag, which Amber and I had to drag into the kitchen ourselves.

Now I wish I hadn’t been so squeamish, because I would have liked to taste his now renowned sausages. But the sight put me off meat (particularly pork) for a good while.

When I moved in with vegetarian Jay, I used it as an excuse to invest in many plant-based cookbooks. Everything by Deborah Madison found its way onto my shelf, in addition to Chez Panisse Vegetables, The Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and Everyday Greens, to name just a few. When I learned that Real Food Daily, a vegan restaurant in my old haunts of Santa Monica, had come out with a collection oftantalizingrecipes and photography, I snapped it up.

It had been many years since I had eaten real pâté when I pureed up this lentil walnut goop for the first time. When I tasted it, a million memories rushed back of eating the Trader Joe’s pâté my dad used to buy, with cornichons (tiny, tangy pickles) and stone-ground, whole-wheat crackers. It tasted exactly the way I remembered the piggy stuff: sweet, meaty and rich, with the texture of velvet on the tongue.

While sherry and liver gave the pâté with which I was familiar its characteristically complex taste, a stealthy trio of Japanese ingredients flavor this vegan spread. First, caramelized onions and garlic are deglazed with Mirin, a sweet cooking wine. Bay leaf-scented lentils and toasted walnuts are then blended with umeboshi, a pink puree made from pickled sour plums, and miso, fermented soybean paste. A handful of fresh herbs adds further depth and flecks of color. The recipe does require several steps – sauteing onions, toasting the nuts, cooking the lentils – but in the end, it comes together in minutes with the help of a food processor.

Top: umeboshi (pickled plum) paste Bottom: yellow miso

I’ve made this pâté many times, for many events, varying the herbs, adding a bit of olive oil for moisture, but keeping the rest exactly the same. Every skeptical mouth that tastes this unassuming spread smiles in rapturous surprise; most go on to ask for the recipe.

And I’m always happy to tell them that no pigs were harmed in the making of this pâté.

Noshes and nibbles:

Herby Cheese Straws (a.k.a Crack Sticks)
Sourdough Crackers
Smoky Baba Ganoush

One year ago:

Bacon Cheddar Beer Scones

Lentil Walnut Pâté

Adapted from the Real Food Daily Cookbook

Makes about 3 cups, 8 – 10 appetizer-sized servings

Miso, umeboshi paste and mirin can all be found in hippy health food stores/Whole Foods in the Asian foods aisle, or at Asian (Japanese) markets. Look for miso that is stored in the refrigerator rather than shelf stable, as it will contain all the beneficial bacteria and probiotics of which miso is full. Don’t worry about the pâté’s lack of salt – the miso and umeboshi paste both contain the salt needed to give the pâté just the right amount of flavor.

3/4 cup dried green lentils (lentils de puy)
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)
1 small, yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon mirin
1 1/4 cups walnuts, toasted (for 10 – 12 minutes at 350º) and cooled
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, basil or parsley, plus extra for garnish, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, oregano or marjoram, chopped
3 tablespoons yellow miso
1 1/2 tablespoons umeboshi paste
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
extra olive oil, for drizzling

In a medium saucepan, combine the lentils, water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the lentils are very tender (but not falling apart), 20 – 30 minutes. Drain, discard the bay leaf, and cool completely (you can speed this up by spreading the lentils out on a plate and sticking them in the fridge).

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring frequently and reducing the heat if necessary, until the onions are golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in the mirin and remove from the heat. Cool completely (to speed up the process, see lentils, above).

Place the toasted and cooled walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and puree until it looks like nut butter, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the cooled lentils and the onion mixture and puree smooth. Add in the herbs, miso, umeboshi, pepper, and remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and blend until smooth.

Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Drizzle with olive oil and chopped fresh herbs, and serve with crackers or sliced baguette and cornichons or olives.

42 thoughts on “Lentil Walnut Pâté”

  1. Love your story telling!

    Everything you post looks SO fabulous! I have been checking out different animal-free pate recipes lately and I LOVE the sound of yours. I'm definitely bookmarking this!

  2. This is the BEST pate EVER. I honestly don't think I've had a meat pate that can compare. Its simple, unassuming color and texture did not prepare me for the astounding complexity and richness that this spread manages to balance (perfectly).

    Maybe this is due to my (borderline unhealthy) attraction to all things miso/mirin/umeboshi/Japanese, or just Alanna's remarkable ability to make just about any food feel rich and delectable and special. Still, I think this recipe is a winner and I can't wait to get home and give it a try myself!

  3. Hi, thanks for this recipe. It looks and sounds amazing. I'm having a hard time finding umeboshi paste in my area – can you suggest anything that I can substitute it with?

  4. Umeboshi is very tart and salty, so I'd recommend making the pâté with everything but the umeboshi, then adding either more miso and mirin, or adding salt and lemon juice until the pate tastes good to you (or a bit of all four). Let us know how it goes!

  5. I found the Umeboshi at both Whole Foods and my local Health Food Store – I actually had no luck at the Asian grocer (partly because I couldn't discern the labels exactly). I'm making this for NYE after having it bookmarked/having the ingredients for months!

  6. We had a similar pate at Angelica's Kitchen in NYC, one of our favorite vegan restaurants. I'd been looking for a similar recipe and yours is simply the best. Thanks for providing this new addition to our rotating list of favorites!

  7. I just made this and it was SO good. I thought I had some umeboshi paste but I didn't, so it got left out, and it still tasted amazing without it. I'm definitely going to make this for any parties in the future. :)

  8. This looks like a keeper! I use a good lentil spread from Gourmet mag with a head of roasted garlic. I am a Tenzo at a Buddhist zendo where there is lots of mirin, miso & Asian ingredients lying around. Lentils & walnuts are an especially good combo. We use a lot of French lentils now cuz they cook quicker. Always good to keep no ego in the food , but for feasts & ordinations a treat is good. Can't wait to try it. Will even turn the priests on to les cornichonsMerci!

    1. This is the coolest comment I've gotten on my site – thank you! I do hope the priests approve. : ) And the roasted garlic variation sounds delicious – I'll have to try that one sometime.

  9. We just had the most amazing Vietnamese sandwiches at a shop in Guerneville. One of the ingredients was lentil walnut pate, so I googled it this morning. There it was, and I think this recipe looks perfect. I'm not in any hurry to get home from this lovely trip to wine country, but at least I have this to look forward to. Thanks!

  10. This looks wonderful! I only have ground walnuts at the moment, roughly how many grams of walnuts would you say you used? Were they whole walnuts or walnut pieces?

    1. Hi Charlotte, I appear to have used mostly whole walnuts that were a bit broken up, as per the photo above. Google says that 1 cup of whole walnuts equals roughly 4 ounces. I used 1 1/4 cups, so roughly 5-6 ounces, or 140-170 grams total. I don't think that a little more or less will make a big difference, so proceed fearlessly! Let us know how it comes out. Happy cooking!

  11. Another winner! Fascinating fusion of Asian ingredients with decidedly European ingredients. Generic grocery store lentils from my pantry, and I happened to have whole pickled umeboshi with shiso so used that since it gets pureed anyway.

    Sliced up some bread but I think crudites would let the flavor shine through more. Unfortunately, my carrots are earmarked for your Curried Carrot Soup with Ginger and Coconut Milk.

    1. Hi Katherine, umeboshi with shiso sounds delicious! I'm so glad you like the pate – it's one of my all-time favorite recipes, too. I bet crudites would be a great vehicle for it. I hope you enjoy the carrot soup, as well!

    2. You know what I was missing? The olive oil. Added that for serving (as you have in the recipe – DUH) and now I think it works great with bread, too.

      Have you ever grilled the bread with olive oil?

  12. I've made this according to the recipe many times, and it is SO delicious!

    However, I wanted to make it while visiting my father in rural Spain, where you can't get ingredients like miso, mirin or umeboshi, so I made some changes, and while it wasn't quite as good as the original, it was still pretty damn amazing :-) So, for those of you having trouble finding some of the ingredients: I replaced both the mirin and the umeboshi by soaking raisins in sherry with a lot of salt and a dash of syrup for a couple of hours, and then putting it through the food processor. I replaced the miso with a much smaller amount (probably about a tablespoon) of soy sauce, because I thought the soy flavour might become a bit overwhelming if I used more.

  13. I just would like to say that I followed a link from another site here (where they also had a veg. pate) and not only does your recipe look light years better, your writing is a real treat in itself. Looking forward to giving this a try.

  14. I found your recipe about 2 years ago, and every time I’ve made it people have marvelled at it and wanted the recipe – I’m so glad to have found it, and I’m going to make it again for a New Year’s Day gathering. I even impressed a woman where I work who’s a former caterer – at parties everyone rushes to get her contribution first!
    My mother is Japanese so I’m familiar with miso and umeboshi, but would never have known that they could contribute that essential “meaty” flavor to this pate. It’s also a great one because it’s not just vegetarian but vegan. You have a lot of other recipes that look wonderful too……

  15. I’m going to be trying this recipe out for a birthday party this week, but was wondering since umeboshi paste is quite expensive, whether capers might be a good substitute? And if so, how much you might put in? I did get the umeboshi paste for this party though, which I found at Whole Foods.

    There were quite a few different misos out there.. what brand did you get? I got the Miso Master Organic Chickpea which looked yellow, compared to the other misos. I hope that’s the right one to use.. Thanks for the recipe!

  16. I forgot to ask and I’m hoping you see this soon, as I am making this for tomorrow, starting it tonight.. if I double the recipe, do I just double all the ingredients including the black pepper? Can I mix cilantro and parsley, or is it better to stick to one kind of herb? Thanks again!

    1. Hi Joanne! I think it’s fine to double all the ingredients, though you may need to adjust them to your taste a bit. If you’re concerned about it being too peppery, feel free to use less and add it in to taste if you like. As for the umeboshi, capers would seem like a good substitute – maybe start with a couple of teaspoons and adjust from there? If you try it, please report back! The miso you got seems a-ok; there are some darker, aged misos that might change the color and taste, so anything light in color and with a mild flavor should be perfect. Let me know how you like it!

      1. Thanks for your quick reply! I’ve made the walnut butter in my 4 cup mini-prep food processor, but it’s not large enough to blend all the other ingredients. I have an immersion blender and a Vitamix.. Can I use either of them to finish the job or would you recommend one over the other?
        I guess I could also do very small batches in my mini processor, then mix them all together by hand. Any suggestions? Thanks, I’ll report back.

  17. Forgot to mention.. I may not finish the recipe tonight, but will tackle it tomorrow morning. I’ve finished the walnut butter and lentils.. Do I need to refrigerate the walnut butter as well as the lentils if I finish tomorrow? Thanks again!

      1. Hi Alanna! Oops I meant to come back and give you feedback earlier.. It was a great success!! Everyone loved it and was raving about it. I doubled the recipe so I could keep some for myself, and I’m loving it too, and have been noshing on it today. I really like that it’s full of protein, probiotics and all the good stuff.. makes for easy healthy snacking. Thanks again for a fantastic recipe!

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