Thursday, March 10, 2011

lentils for lunch

Homemade pita, salad and lentils with mushrooms
I am a lentil evangelist.  I think everybody should make and eat lentils, often.  They cook quickly and are virtually impossible to mess up.  They are tasty and cheap.   Hot, or cold in salad, as a spread, or a soup, they are amazingly versatile.  If I don't know what to cook, lentils are my fallback.  I didn't always love lentils (I am a relatively recent convert).  I actually thought I hated them.  Then, one day while staying at a friend's, I discovered lentils in all their, last-thing-in-the-pantry glory, a lentil epiphany you might say.

My friend's recipe was unbelievably simple, you saute onions and carrots then add the lentils.  Brown everything, and then add some tamari and dijon mustard (tamari is pretty salty so go easy)--loosen anything that's stuck to the bottom.  Top up with water, and cook the lentils.  Now you may not believe me, but really, this is delicious.  Add some rice and a salad and you have a fine (if a bit hippyish) meal.  Honestly, this recipe was a revelation, and I've been cooking lentils regularly ever since.

split red lentils, whole red lentils, brown lentils 
If I don't have a lot of time, or if I'm making a spread, the split red lentils are a good choice.  They cook quickly and don't hold their shape.  Whole red lentils take a little longer to cook and hold their shape fairly well.  Brown lentils are classic, and are great with chorizo or bacon--they hold their shape well and take the longest to cook.

Lately my favourite spice combination is:
cumin, oregano, bay,  smoked paprika and sea salt
Now this combination of spices is great for meat (I make an awesome BBQ rub with a combination like this) but it is also excellent with lentils.

Lentils with Mushrooms
2 cups dry lentils (I used red lentils)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion chopped
3 cups chopped mushrooms (I used meaty portobellos)
3 cloves garlic chopped fine
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons oregano
3 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups white wine
2 tablespoons wine vinegar (optional)

Rinse and pick through the lentils (watch for pebbles).
In a large pot or dutch oven, saute the onions in the olive oil.  Cook the onions until tender and add the mushrooms, garlic, cumin, paprika, oregano, bay, salt and pepper.  When the mushrooms are juicy add the clean lentils.  Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes--until it starts looking a bit dry.  Add the wine.  Cook until the lentils start to look dry again and cover with water--there should be a centimeter or two of water covering the lentils.  Cook the lentils, frequently stirring and checking the liquid level--add more water as you need it.  When the lentils are done check for salt.  If you feel like the lentils could use a little zing add the vinegar.

Serve with rice or pita.  This also purées nicely into a spread.


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