Friday, October 21, 2011

Tim's Lentil Mix Tape

Apparently, about a year ago, I got drunk and started babbling. One of my favorite topics of conversation, both sober and intoxicated, is lentils. I fucking love lentils. They are by far my favorite legume. They are easy and quick to prepare, and nutrient rich! They also have a nice shape, not all awkward and oblong like, say, navy beans. Anyway, while I was babbling incoherently about lentils, I promised one of my top five friends, Tim, that I would make him a "lentil mix tape." And since Tim is obsessed with beans, I had no choice but to make good on my promise.

Here you go, Tim. Here is your lentil mix tape.

Track One: Lentil Soup 

The best kind of soup is the kind you just make out of whatever. I love making soup because it is more about intuition and less about following a plan. That's my favorite kind of cooking.

The Minimum of What You'll Need:
  • a couple of cups of lentils
  • neutral oil or butter
  • 6-8 cups of water (You could use stock, but the only stock I like (that doesn't feel all, for lack of a better word, plastic-y or like a chicken who is made out of aluminum) is stock I've made myself and that is rarely worth the effort)).
  • some garlic
  • like three carrots
  • some celery
  • a can of chopped tomatoes
  • a bayleaf
  • paprika
  • salt and pepper
Nice Things to Add If You Have It:
  • parsnips, turnips, etc
  • fresh parsley
  • kale
  • spinach
  • turmeric/cumin/etc if you want to make it more Middle Eastern-y
  • basil/oregano/dill if you want to make it more European-y
How To Make It
  1. Chop up the onion and garlic and cook these guys up in the bottom of a large soup pot
  2. When the onion and garlic starts getting aromatic, add chopped celery, carrots, salt and pepper and whatever powered spices you plan on using.
  3. When the celery and carrots start to soften, add the lentils, bay leaf, dried or fresh herbs, and enough water to cover the mixture and more depending on how "brothy" you want it to be.
  4. Now you just wait until until the lentils get soft. You inevitably will get impatient and take about 15 sporadic sips of soup during this period. This is when you will realize you didn't add enough salt in the beginning. So add some more salt.
  5. When the lentils are almost perfectly soft, add the can of tomatoes (with the juice) and the softer veggies, like spinach.
  6. When your spinach wilts, eat your goddammed soup! With a grilled cheese sandwich! 
Track Two: Lentils with Rice and Caramelized Onions

I would like to claim that I made this up, but it is totally from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I make this so often that one of my roommates starts groaning when she sees me making it.  It is a great dish to make when you are running out of money!

The Ingredients
  • two cups of lentils
  • one cup of long-grain basmati white rice
  • two onions
  • one tablespoon of cumin
  • half a head of garlic
  • salt and pepper
How To Make It
  1. Chop up one of the onions and the garlic and cook them up in a medium sauce pan with a sturdy lid. When the veggies are aromatic, mix in the cumin and salt and pepper.
  2. Mix in the lentils and add enough water to cover the lentils by an inch or so. Cover and let cook for about 45 minutes, until the lentils are soft.
  3. When the lentils are soft, add the rice and pour in enough water to cover the mixture by an inch or so. Cover, reduce the heat to simmer, and wait for the rice to soften (about 20-30 minutes). If the rice is soft, but there is still a lot of liquid, that is okay. Just uncover and increase the heat and let the excess water evaporate.
  4. While the rice and lentils are cooking, it is time to caramelize the onions. Caramelizing onions is magical! You take this harsh, tear inducing vegetable and with a little butter and heat, it becomes sweet like candy, but better! I wish there was onion-flavored candy …  Anyway, put the elegantly sliced onions with butter or oil on medium heat and stir it enough that your fire alarm doesn't go off. When the onions are all brown (but not burned up!), put them on some paper towels to soak up the extra oil. You don't want to get heart disease!
  5. I like to eat this with plain yogurt and the following salad: cucumber, onion, mint, tomatoes, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil all tossed together. Make this while the rice is cooking, so it has time to marinate. it is the sort of thing that tastes better over time. 
Track Three: Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie 

My mom, who is also obsessed with beans, made up this recipe on one of those Dutch winter days, when there is like three hours of sunlight and your feet are cold and you can't imagine a life where you could go outside while wearing shorts.

What You'll Need
  • a cup or two of lentils
  • butter
  • a handful of shallots
  • garlic
  • a couple of potatoes
  • one or two sweet potatoes
  • milk
  • sour cream
  • Gruyere cheese
  • salt and pepper
How To Make It
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 and start boiling some lentils and the potatoes. You can just stab and microwave the sweet potatoes. It is a strangely satisfying to stab a sweet potato, so I suggest that route.
  2. In a skillet or what-have-you, start cooking those shallots in butter until they are soft.
  3. When the lentils are soft, throw them in with the shallots, stir it around, and salt and pepper it.
  4. When the potatoes and sweet potatoes are cooked, mash them up together with sour cream, milk, salt, pepper and whatever you like to put in mashed potatoes.
  5. Take a casserole dish and layer it with the lentil/shallot mixture at the bottom, the potato mixture in the middle, and top it off with a generous layer of shredded Gruyere.
  6. Bake it until the cheese is golden and crispy and eat it with a green salad or vegetable so you can digest this thing properly.