Sunday, March 24, 2013

spiced red lentil stew with greens and lemon

One of the things that drives me bonkers about women's magazines is when they advertise recipes for "dinner in 20 minutes flat!"

They're everywhere and they're generally completely unrealistic. I mean, do these magazines think we have a sous-chef who's right beside us in the kitchen, chopping vegetables faster than the speed of light and measuring spices into little prep bowls?

In my experience, a good meal takes between one and two hours to make. (The only way around this I've found is the humble sausage. Frying sausage, boiling potatoes and few veggies can be done in about 40 minutes. But I cannot eat sausage every night.)

When I say "good meal," I mean one that feeds at least two people and leaves lots of leftovers for lunch the next day and tastes good. It also usually includes all of the food groups.

So I get pretty excited when I find a recipe I can make in just under an hour that meets all those requirements. These recipes are not usually very sexy.

Case in point: when I was looking through the lovely Laura Calder's newest cookbook, I was about to flip right by her recipe for spiced red lentil stew with spinach and lemon.

Yes, I do eat a lot of lentils, but I wasn't exactly looking for lentil inspiration in a French cook book. However! Laura knows me well and the headnote to the recipe began, "Please do not overlook this recipe . . . " and proceeded to list why I should make it.

Merci, Laura. I made this recipe soon after and it has become one of the best recipes we've discovered in the last while. In fact, I do believe we've made it at least five times in the last five months.

It is a brilliant recipe and I can make it all in under an hour. (Imagine how much faster I'd be with a sous-chef!) The lentils cook down in their spicy broth and remind me of dahl. I am not really a spinach or greens lover, but even they just work piled on top of the lentils. Then the bits of lemon juice squeezed on top wake it all up and make each bite different. I like to put this all on a bed of short-grain brown rice  you know the kind that almost pops in your mouth?

It's all divine. If I had my own magazine, I'd advertise, "dinner in just under an hour!" and I'd know you really could do it by yourself  and enjoy it.

How many copies I'd sell would be another story.

one year ago: cheddar corn chowder and lemon gumdrops
two years ago: grand forks borscht and up island
three years ago: canadian boterkoek and sophisticated marshmallow squares
lentil-love: dahl for dinner, dahling and parsley lentil pasta and salmon with sugar-salt rub and Mark Bittman's lentils

spiced red lentil stew with greens and lemon
slightly adapted from Laura Calder's Dinner Chez Moi

brown rice (I like this short-grain brown rice best)
2 tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced (or peperoncino, crushed, if you can get it)
2 tsp. (10 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp. (5 ml) ground coriander
1 tsp. (5 ml) curry powder
pinch of turmeric
1 c. (200 g.) red lentils
398 ml (14 oz.) best-quality canned tomatoes
 3.5 c. (about 700 ml) chicken stock*
salt and pepper
100  200 g. (4  8 oz.) Swiss chard, spinach or other greens, stems trimmed
lemon wedges for serving

Get your rice going, so it can cook while you prepare the lentils and greens.

Put a Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the oil. Stir in the garlic, jalapeño, cumin, coriander and curry. After about a minute, the garlic should be light brown. Pour in the lentils, tomatoes, stock and turmeric. Cover and bring to a simmer, stirring every so often, until the lentils have broken down and become a purée, about 20  30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Next, prepare the greens. Wash them and put them into a big pot with water droplets still on the leaves. Cover the pot and turn the heat to medium-high. Steam them for 3  5 minutes, tossing them with tongs a couple times to make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pot. Once they are just wilted, turn off the heat.

Ladle lentils over rice in wide shallow bowls. Top with a tangle of greens. Serve with lemon wedges on the side to squeeze over.

*If you add 4 cups of stock, you will have a stewy soup and you don't need to serve it with rice. But I like the rice!

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