Outside the weather was damp and cold. We were happy to be inside the warm busy restaurant. We ordered our favorite dishes: udon with mushrooms. tempura vegetables and shrimp on seasoned rice, salmon sashimi with pale white daikon threads & wispy pickled seaweed, spinach salad seasoned with mirin and sesame paste, sea urchin (uni) sushi with quail yolk, egg omelet sushi (tamago), baked crab hand roll and hot soba in soup with thinly sliced scallions and paper thin sheets of fatty duck breast.
Yesterday the rain was reduced to a light drizzle. Not enough to soak through a thick sweater but enough to chill skin and bone. When it was time to think about dinner, I had only one thought. Cook something easy. Cook something in one pot. And make sure it is hot, filling and delicious.
A few years ago a press trip took me Spokane, Washington and Moscow, Idaho. The area is well-known for its agricultural products, most importantly lentils. A representative of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council gave us a "Lentils 101" talk that described the many varieties of lentils, their nutritional value and economic importance to protein-starved regions of the world. Each of us was given a copy of The Pea & Lentil Cookbook: From Everyday to Gourmet which has recipes using dried legumes in dishes as varied as appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts.
Cooking with lentils is easy.
The basics are wash and rinse the lentils, discarding any broken or misshapen lentils. For four servings one cup of dried lentils are mixed with two and a half cups of water. Simmer covered for 30-50 minutes, tasting the beans as they cook and removing the pot from the stove when they are to your taste. Cooking them longer, lentils will soften and can be used in purees for soups, dips, sauces and spreads.
I like the lentils to retain their shape so cook them only until they are al dente. Surprisingly easy to cook, healthy lentils have a delicious nutty flavor.
The roasted tomato thickens the sauce and adds a pleasing acid. Canned tomato sauce may be used, but it is less expensive and more flavorful to make your own by placing a whole tomato onto a Silpat lined baking sheet and roasted 45 minutes in a 350 F oven. If you have already roasted tomatoes and made sauce, use the frozen or canned sauce. For Zester Daily I wrote about making roasted tomatoes and sauce to keep in your freezer.
Lentils come in many colors and varieties. They are not all the same. Find the ones you like. My favorites are Beluga or black lentils and Spanish pardina lentils, which I used last night.
1 cup lentils
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 garlic clove, washed, skin removed, minced
1 medium sized yellow onion, washed, paper skin, root and stem ends removed, finely chopped
2 cups mushrooms, preferably shiitake or brown, washed, the ends of the stems removed, finely chopped
1 medium sized carrot, stem cut off, peeled, washed
2 cups spinach leaves, washed and thin sliced
1 large roasted tomato, washed, stem removed or 1/2 cup roasted tomato sauce
Rinse the lentils, discarding any that are broken or discovered.
In a 2 quart sauce pan, heat the olive oil. Add the dry spices and garlic. Lightly brown.
Add the onions, mushrooms and carrots. Saute until lightly browned.
Add the lentils and water. Stir well. Bring to a simmer. Cover.
The lentils may take 25-45 minutes to soften. How long depends on many factors. Cook them covered for 25 minutes, then taste a few lentils. If they need more cooking and the liquid has evaporated, add enough water to keep the lentils covered. At this point also add the the roasted tomato sauce.
Stir well, cover and continue cooking, checking the pot every 5 minutes until they have achieved the desired texture.