Monday, May 26, 2008

Bean Jazz #2, A Love Affair with Lentils

If I had to pick one bean as "my bean" it would be without a doubt or a moment's hesitation, the lentil. A timeline of my love affair...

1975: I first eat lentil soup at the age of 14. My parents drove my brother and me to the "World Vegetarian Congress" in Orono, Maine. They were not vegetarians but I had become a vegetarian on my 13th birthday and wanted to go. I didn't realize until years later just how cool my parents were. Anyway, I still remember the lentil soup at the Vegetarian Congress. It had a strange taste, not as in good strange, but as in strange strange. My mother wouldn't eat lentils for years after that and referred to "that bad lentil soup" in Orono many times over the next decade.

1979: College. Freshman fall. A beautiful late September Tuesday. The vegetarian entre for lunch that day in the cafeteria was lentil stew. I was a little dubious, but as that was the option, I gave it a try. I added some salt. I went back for seconds. And thirds. "Can you make it a little bigger this time?" The woman behind the lunch line thought I was nuts. Every other Tuesday lunch it was me and three heaping plates of scrumptious lentil stew.

1983: I'm doing and internship in Washington, D.C. and living the life of an unpaid intern. I start to experiment with cooking lentils myself.

1984: I'm living in Philadelphia, scraping by on two part-time jobs. More experimentation with lentils.

1985: I move to Kalamazoo, live in an attic and have not even one part time job. I eat lentils every day. Around this time I settle on my first generation lentils and rice recipe which is basically garlic added to the lentil cooking water and margarine and salt on top of the finished lentils. If I was lucky enough to scrounge up a tomato, I would dice it up and put that on the very top. It was tasty but not so healthy with the margarine.

Later 80's: I get a regular job and can afford to add a diced tomato every time I eat lentils.

Early 90's: I decide to cut the fat from the recipe. However, without the margarine, the lentils are a bit dry. More experimentation.

Mid 90's: By trial and error I come up with a fairly stable second generation lentil and rice recipe that is really more of a stew. I've been eating it and serving it to my family regularly since then. It's the one thing everyone likes. And here is the recipe, as it has developed over the years.

Bean Jazz #2: Veggie Lentil Stew
About 50 minutes, start to finish

Equipment: Rice pan, Large stock pot (at least 5 quarts/litres), large frying pan

1 lb. dried lentils (2.5 cups, 450 g)
1 lb. dry brown rice (2.5 cups, 450 g)
1 tbsp. corriander
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1 tbsp. rosemary (in a bag or cheesecloth, I use "fill-yourself" tea bags)
3 bay leaves (also in the bag)
Your favorite bouillon to taste, (1-3 cubes)
1/4 cup canola oil
2 medium to large onions, chopped
1/2 lb. (225 g) mushrooms, chopped
5 medium to large carrots, chopped
4-5 stalks of celery, chopped
2 cans of 14.5 oz. diced tomatoes

Start the rice cooking, when it boils, turn it down to a simmer and set the timer for 40 minutes.
Rinse the lentils twice and cover them with 2" of cold water in the stock pot. Put them on the stove on high heat. Bag the bay leaves and rosemary and add the to the pot. Add the corriander, cayenne pepper and bouillon. When the lentils boil, turn them down to a simmer.

While the lentils and rice are cooking, heat the oil in the frying pan on high heat. Chop the onions and add them to the oil, stirring every couple minutes. While they're cooking, chop the mushrooms. When the onions are very soft and some are just starting to get brown around the edges (about 5 minutes), add the mushrooms, leave the heat high and continue to stir every couple minutes until the onion/mushroom mix is really cooked and getting brown in parts (about another 5 minutes). While the onions and mushrooms are cooking, chop the carrots and celery. Add them and the diced tomatoes to the frying pan, stir it all up and cover. Stir it every five minutes or so until your timer for the rice goes off. Drain the lentils, remove the rosemary and bay leaves, and put the drained lentils back in the stock pot. Add the vegetable mixture to the lentils and stir it up. Serve the lentil stew over the brown rice and salt to taste.


Anonymous said...

This is the most perfect way to serve lentils! Love the site.

Anonymous said...

just wondering...what would you say is your ideal lentil-to-rice ratio?

Marky said...

I think the best lentil to rice ratio is between 3:2 & 2:1. Some people like people more or less rice. I cook 2 cups of (dry) brown rice to match this recipe and it works out to about the average preference for a crowd. Hope that helps!