Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blessed Lentils to you

Here we are again. You're probably about to eat a lot of lentils! Here are some delicious ways to do that.

Mujjadara is an old standby for us. I had never heard of it until I married Matt. He grew up in an Antiochian church that was 90% Arabs, and this was a popular dish during Lent. The cute little family story I always heard was that his mom was crazy about it and used to call it "mmmmjjadara," but he and his sister called it "yukjjadara." Probably because his mom burnt the onions (on purpose... a strange Lenten craving.) When he told me about it I was intrigued, and just looked up how to make it. My first few attempts were terrible and indeed, worthy of the name "Yukjjadara." The recipes weren't very good, I guess. I always had a hard time getting the lentils and rice to cook evenly. But when I finally found Bint Rhoda's recipe above, it was perfect the first time. Soaking the rice is imperative!

It's a very inexpensive dish except for the gallons of olive oil that you should use (I go cheap... Trader Giotto's lowest quality.) The only tedious part is chopping the onions. If you want to make it more of a one-pot meal, you can add some other finely chopped veggies like cabbage or cauliflower. I don't know if that would be strictly authentic, but those vegetables are common in Arabic cooking, so I don't think it's too kooky, and whatever, it's Lent, and you're hungry. This dish is extremely filling and satisfying.

Last week I decided to soak a bag of lentils and cook from it for a while. The first thing that I made was this awesome Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup . I used half of a kabocha squash that I already had prepared and otherwise followed the recipe, except that I omitted fennel seeds as I didn't have any. I also used a potato masher to squash the squash a bit, making the soup a little thicker. It's sweet, smooth, and hits the spot on a cold day.

Next, I lazily left the rest of the lentils on the counter and found the next day that they had sprouted a little bit. I decided to take advantage of God's gift to procrastinators and kept rinsing and draining the lentils throughout the day until I had some pretty nice sprouts going. I found a recipe for a cold sprouted lentil salad here and as I chopped veggies and doused with oil, I hummed happily to myself, thinking how good it was going to be and how I was going to write this blog post on the subject of Lenten lentil dishes. But the joke was on me when I found the salad utterly horrible and could not finish it without adding sour cream and ground beef. Matt, who is not breastfeeding and pregnant, said he thought it was okay by itself and bravely finished the bowl.

Finally, I fried the rest of the sprouted lentils with onions, garlic, and cabbage, along the lines of the second recipe on that page. I had a few marvelous tacos with this stuff and one quesadilla. I recommend the taco treatment for fasters (salsa, avocado, cilantro, lime, maybe some rice?). The lentils have a fresh flavor, but also enough savory chewiness to work in the taco setting. I won't say They taste exactly like carne asada! but they are still good.

It's a good strategy. Have a bowl of sprouting lentils and a bowl of soaking grains (like rice, kamut, barley, or wheat berries) on your counter at all times, and with the help of a rice cooker, you'll probably be able to come up with healthy Lenten meals with a minimum of planning and active prep.

Now I miss my big bowl of sprouted lentils. Matt got a little tired of hearing "Well, there's lentils..." every time he was hungry. But I'll give him a little break and try again next week.

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