January 19, 2014

Quintessential Lentils

A long time ago, I tackled lentils as a matter of parent-preparedness. Our recipe collection needed a great lentil stew, I reasoned, so Darwin could hold onto something earthy and sweet, humble and harmonious as he grew up and ventured into the world.

I launched the search unnecessarily early. I imagine (remember?) poking my big belly against the kitchen counter to chop celery and fill pots with practice-stews. Here's another likely beginning: the astonishing day Darwin's dimpled hand swiped at solid food for the first time.

I scoured every book and blog I could find, tested recipes, and reported back to Scott: "It's pretty good, but it's not going to be our stew." The right one was still out there, somewhere.

Lentils enthuse me for good reason. Rich in protein, iron, fiber, folate, and B-vitamins, these disc-shaped legumes have a way of combining the big and little things of the world: they're ordinary and inexpensive, but they link us to people across oceans and continents and even to our neolithic ancestors(!)

Here in our kitchen, the magic of discovering the perfect recipe arrived like the meal itself, as a slow, subtle unfolding, a gradual deepening. I tested and tweaked for months, over- and under-complicating techniques and ingredients, until one day, almost when I'd stopped paying attention...



Quintessential Lentils
Serves 6 or more

1 lb lentils, rinsed, drained, and sorted
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled
3 celery stalks, chopped or sliced
1/2 cup (uncooked) short-grain brown rice, well-rinsed and drained
8oz tomato sauce (we like Muir Glen brand)
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1 Tbls. unsulfured molasses
juice from half a lemon
a swirl of olive oil, for sauteing
1 tsp. sea salt

In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, saute onion, carrot, and celery heat until translucent, about ten minutes.

Add lentils, basil, thyme, sage, and seven cups of water. Bring to a boil, then quickly reduce heat to low, just the barest simmer. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

When the timer dings, add the rice and bring back to a simmer. Cover, and set the timer again for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally and gently, adding a little extra water if the lentils are starting to breech the surface. (Don't exceed 1 cup extra water)

When the timer dings, add the tomato sauce and molasses. Set the timer for fifteen minutes.

When the timer dings, turn off the heat, and stir in salt and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings before ladling into bowls.

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