The Humble Yet Exalted Lentil

Courtesy Wikimedia

It’s practicing for fall out there today. We started the morning with a thunderstorm at 5:45. It poured for a couple of hours, then settled into sprinkles long enough so Oakley and I could do about a 20 minute walk.

If the weather chooses to practice for fall, then I will practice cooking for it. I decided to try a new lentil curry recipe in the slow cooker for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Among the legumes, lentils are arguably the easiest to cook. No need to soak them; just put them in a pot with water or stock and seasonings as suggested by a recipe or your culinary intuition and you have the beginnings of a meal in less than an hour. The red lentils cook in less than thirty minutes, so be aware of that if you choose them.  Check the liquid levels frequently, though, since they absorb like little sponges.

For a basic soup, sauté an onion and garlic to taste in olive oil in a good sized pot. Add the lentils and stock or water in a 2:1 ratio (i.e. 2 cups liquid to 1 cup lentils). I put in salt at the beginning. Some wait until the end due to concerns about toughness, but I’ve never had that happen.  When the lentils are done, correct for salt if needed, and add in some lemon juice and chopped spinach. The heat from the lentils will cook the spinach quickly.

Some cooks use a ham bone or bacon (precooked) to add flavor. Not my personal jam, but you do you.

Oh, you’re not in the mood for soup? If you soak and grind the lentils, you can make the crepe’s Indian cousin the dosa. Any good Indian website will have a recipe. I’ve not tried making them myself, but the restaurant we go to has them on the lunch buffet fairly frequently, so I will tell you they’re quite yummy.

Thanks to their ease in preparation and versatility, lentils have graced tables since 11,000 BCE. Native to central and western, Asia, they spread via trade routes across Europe and into India.  They can be grown in tough conditions and can return nitrogen to the soil after depletion by two or three seasons of cereal crops such as corn or wheat. They don’t need a lot of water, either, in order to thrive.

Nutritionally, they are quite the little powerhouses. According to the USDA, 100 grams of cooked lentils provide 116 calories, 10 grams of fiber, and lots of B vitamins. The type of fiber may be beneficial in balancing blood sugar levels for people living with diabetes. And they have quite a bit of protein, too.

All that nutrition, versatility, easy to grow, available in almost any grocery store? There is nothing to dislike about lentils.

 

 

 

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Pesto Change-O

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Today is August 1. In the earth based religions, today is Lammas, the first harvest at the height of summer.* Herbs and tomatoes reach their peak right about now. If you’re looking for a great way to use them,  something suitable for a feast, or just want something yummy on your pasta, fish, chicken, scrambled eggs, or bruschetta, try pesto.

“Pesto” means “pounded.” It’s a close relative to “pestle” as in “mortar and…” Once upon a time before food processors and blenders the cook put the herbs, nuts, cheese, and oil into a mortar and pounded away until they created a paste-like substance. Now it’s just a matter of loading everything into a food processor and pressing a button.

My food processor’s been busy this summer thanks to the productivity of the basil, enabling me to make several batches already. I use Patricia Wells’ pistou formula from her book Bistro Cooking  as a blueprint:

2 cups basil leaves, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 3 large garlic cloves cut in half, 1/2 cup Parmesan. Put everything in the food processor, pulse it a couple of times to get the party started, and let it rip until it makes a paste.

This is classic pesto, or pistou in French. If you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, feel free to improvise. Since pine nuts involve a trip to the Italian market and run on the exorbitant side, I use almond meal or walnuts. No basil? No problem. Try cilantro. Or (I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud) kale. Yes, kale. The chef at my favorite lunch/tea/coffee makes pesto with it. He uses it on flatbreads and in his grilled cheese sandwiches. It plays nicely with its colleagues (read: not bitter and stringy ) in that application.

If you want to do something different, try pesto Trapenese. It includes tomatoes for a Sicilian spin. I haven’t tried it myself, but might just be giving this variation courtesy of Lidia Bastianich a try very soon.

With a basic formula and seasonal ingredients, the pesto-bilities are endless. (Well, someone had to say it…)

 

 

 

*For readers celebrating Lammas, brightest of bright blessings from me and Oakley. May this be a day of abundance and joy for you and whomever joins your celebration.