End-of-Winter Lentils

It's 61 degrees and climbing in Seattle.  Unbelievable.  I went running with a t-shirt on this morning and thought about--you guessed it--what to make for dinner.

Since it's officially spring, I should be making lemon roast chicken with asparagus or even cleaning off the BBQ.  However, I am guiltily aware of several lone items languishing in my fridge and pantry.  I've always been adept at Refrigerator Soup, but am even more conscious these days of making do, not throwing anything away.

So here's my inventory:  a big jar of lentils, 2 small yams, half a bag of spinach (some of it went into yesterday's Asian slaw), a molding onion (no, that's not hyperbole), and a very withered knob of ginger.  I know "they" say to always cook with the freshest ingredients, but I pride myself on being able to rescue things from the brink.  

Lentils were already on my mind because my friend Sue asked for a recipe recently.  In December, when Seattle had buckets of snow right before Christmas, several of us in the neighborhood convened at John and Jordan's house for an impromptu dinner.  I had just made a big pot of curried lentils with coconut milk and brought them over.  Priya made a divine salad with lobster (my first time having it!) and we watched the snow fall together.  So here's another recipe, Sue, that's quite like that one.

Let me pause a moment to sing the praises of lentils.  Unlike other dry beans, they cook very quickly and don't require soaking.  They can also be boiled in lots of water (so as not to stick together) and be rinsed under cold water for use in salads or to toss with pasta.  One of my favorite combos is a cold lentil salad with goat cheese.  They provide a great source of plant-based protein, are forgiving to cook with, and, of course, they are delicious.  The batch I have now came from PFI, which means they are fresher than what's on the bottom shelf at Safeway (though I have bought those plenty of times.)  Fresh lentils cook faster, which is a plus in my book.  If you've never been to PFI and you live in Seattle, stop reading this right now and go there.  You brain will blow up when you see all their bulk spices and beans, their ridiculous (and ridiculously cheap) cheese counter, and the interesting dry goods from all over the world.

I will probably serve these lentils over Basmati rice for at least two reasons:

  1. My kids love rice and never get tired of it

  2. We'll be able to eat lentils for twice as many nights!  A boon for any mother.

I'll put a dollop of plain yogurt and some chopped cilantro over mine and keep the crushed red pepper shaker or jar of Sambal Oelek handy.  That's one thing about cooking for kids.  I have to tone everything down.  I try to mention things like, "Eating spicy food is cool," but so far, they haven't bought it.

Happy End of Winter.  Really, the only drawback is that I'll miss my LeCreuset dutch oven quite a bit.

End-of-Winter Lentils

1 onion, finely chopped

glug of olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

2" knob of ginger, withered or fresh, grated or finely chopped

2 ts. garam masala

2 ts. paprika

2 c. lentils, rinsed

2 small yams, peeled and cubed

1/2 c. orange juice

juice of one lime

1 can coconut milk

couple handfuls of fresh spinach

salt to taste

plain yogurt, chopped cilantro, and crushed red pepper flakes for garnish (optional)

Saute onion in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, ginger, garam masala, and paprika, and saute for another 5 minutes.  

Add lentils to the onion mixture, and cover with about 2 inches of water.  It will look like a lot, but the lentils will soak it up in no time.  Bring to a boil, and let it bubble vigorously for about 10 minutes.  If you don't plan to serve it over rice, you could also add a handful of Basmati rice at this point.  I love rice in soups.

Add the yams and cook for another 20 minutes, or until lentils and yams are tender.  Add orange juice, lime juice, salt, and coconut milk.  Taste and add more salt if necessary and cook for a bit more until flavors are melded.  Throw in spinach at the last minute.  

Serve with a splat of plain yogurt, chopped cilantro,  something to spice it up, and maybe a lime wedge.