The spices of the Middle East are wonderful mates for a good bottle. Think of the assertiveness of cumin and coriander, the warmth of cardamom and cloves, and the lip-smacking zip of fresh chiles as perfect foils to juicy red wine, such as a Southern Rhône grenache blend. And here we mean the glugable, fresh grenache that’s brimming with juicy berries and floral notes, and made in either stainless- steel or cement vessels. Look for lower-alcohol wines, which pair nicely with a bit of heat. This dish is ideal for most Southern Rhone reds and certainly for one from the Côtes du Rhône Villages. These wines can be made of about twenty permitted grape varieties. At least 50 percent of the blend has to be grenache, and syrah and mourvèdre must comprise at least 20 percent. But between the three of them they have to total 80 percent of the blend. The point is that grenache is the dominant grape in these blends, and the focal point of this pairing.
Zhoug, the spicy green condiment popular in Yemen and Israel, gets a twist here, made with earthy carrot tops instead of parsley. Zhoug can be quite hot, so we dialed back the chiles to complement the wine’s acidity—add more if you want the heat. Look for colorful farmers’ market carrots with bushy green tops. They take a roll in tangy pomegranate molasses before roasting in a hot oven, giving way to caramelized, crispy tips and perfectly tender flesh. Partnered with garlicky lentils, labneh (the thick Levantine spread), and a just-spicy Middle Eastern green sauce, you’ll have a vegetarian dinner that will make even the pickiest meat eater happy.
Place the lentils, onion quarters, celery, carrot, and smashed garlic clove in a medium saucepan and add enough water to cover the lentils by 2 inches. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium- high heat, then decrease the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1⁄ cup of the cooking liquid. Return the lentils to the pan and immediately stir in the minced garlic clove and remaining 2 tablespoons oil while they are hot. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. (If needed, add a splash of the cooking liquid to loosen the lentils just before serving.)
Toast the coriander, cumin, cardamom, and cloves in a small, dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and a shade darker in color, about 2 minutes. Transfer the spices to a mortar, along with the salt, and pound and grind with a pestle to a coarse powder. Add the chile slices, garlic, and cilantro stems and pound and grind to a coarse paste. Add the cilantro leaves and carrot top leaves a handful at a time, pounding and grinding until all are added and the mixture is a coarse but cohesive green paste. Stir in the oil and lime juice, taste, and adjust the seasoning. The zhoug will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. (Alternatively, you can grind the spices in a spice or coffee grinder, and then transfer everything to a food processor to pulverize into a sauce. We just prefer the texture and flavor you get with the mortar and pestle.)