Swapping out a meat-based ingredient for a plant-based one is a balancing act of texture, taste qualities (like umami) and flavors from aromatic compounds. Particularly with liver — can you think of any plant that tastes or smells like it? Please let me know if you do.
Liver is a cheap ingredient that many cultures embrace and adore but can be an acquired taste due to its strong odors, unique and sometimes metallic flavors and texture challenges. My first whiff of liver was thanks to my childhood friend Mary whose father regularly cooked the beef version as a breakfast “treat” on his favorite cast-iron pan.
I dreaded being asked to try it, but never was asked. I didn’t taste liver until I lived in Paris, where you were expected to appreciate pâté.
Pâté commonly uses chicken liver, which has distinct poultry flavors, but this umami-rich lentil version is popular at parties among traditional pâté-lovers and non-meat eaters. Walnuts and mushrooms add texture and savory notes (particularly umami from plant-based glutamate). Cornichons and lemon add brightness, cayenne gives a hint of heat, Madeira offers a soupçon of sweet and pink peppercorns surprise with complex flavors like resin.
Lentil Mushroom Walnut Pâté
Makes nearly 2¾ cups
- ¾ cup dried green lentils (if using cooked about 2 cups)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup walnut pieces (about 5 ounces), toasted
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari
- 1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme
- few pinches cayenne pepper (less than ⅛ teaspoon)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 12-14 (about 10 ounces) medium-sized cremini mushrooms
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
- 1 tablespoon Madeira or marsala
- 8-10 cornichons, diced fine (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1½ teaspoons pink peppercorns, lightly crushed
- Check lentils for debris, put in pot, add 3 cups water and the salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to maintain a rapid simmer for 20-24 minutes or until lentils are tender (more tender than if using in a salad). Drain well in a colander to remove excess water. This can be done a day in advance.
- Toast walnuts in a skillet. Add walnuts, lentils, lemon juice, tamari, thyme and cayenne to a blender.
- Clean and dry mushrooms and cut into 1⁄4”-1⁄2” thick slices. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add mushrooms and sprinkle with the salt. Cook without stirring until browned on one side (about 6-8 minutes), toss them and cook 4-6 more minutes. Add to blender.
- Reduce heat to medium, add remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet then the onions and garlic, cook 4-6 minutes. Add madeira and sweat the onions about 6 more minutes or until onions are soft and liquids have evaporated. Add to blender and process pâté until smooth.
- Scrape mixture into a mixing bowl. Mix in one teaspoon of peppercorns and 2 tablespoons of cornichons. Use remaining ½ teaspoon of peppercorns and tablespoon of cornichons as garnish. Refrigerate until use, keep for 7 days in the refrigerator or freeze for a couple months.
Pate Serving Options
- Serve pâté with crostini, baguette slices, toasts, crackers or on slices of cucumber.
- It also works as a sandwich spread or a filling to stuff cherry tomatoes.