Spicy Lentil Casserole of Hidden Spices and Lentils

Spicy Lentil Casserole it said (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/recipes/vegan-lentil-casserole-recipe.html).  I am looking for both the spice and the lentils.  But this can be fixed pretty easily — which I will do on my next batch.

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed (or 2t minced garlic from a jar)
  • 1lb 9oz (700g) potatoes, cut into chunks — err… I think what I ended up with was more like 4c of potatoes when measured as chunks.
  • 4 carrots thickly sliced
  • 2 parsnips, thickly sliced — and PEELED!
  • 2T curry powder
  • 1.75 pint (1 litre) vegetable stock — in other words, 3-1/2 cups
  • 4oz (100g) red lentils
  • Small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped (optional) — OR 1T ground corriander

Heat 2T oil in a large pot and cook the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the potatoes, carrots and parsnips and cook over a high heat for 6-7 minutes, stirring until the vegetables are golden.

Stir in 2T curry powder and the stock and bring to a boil. Add the lentils, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the lentils are cooked. Add fresh coriander, or 1 tbsp ground coriander.

That is pretty straight forward, but I would do things differently the next time.

First, I approximated my own curry using strange arts of divination and insanity I can’t repeat.  But what I did find was a recipe online that I would happily tweak.

  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix well and store in an airtight container.

I would start by taking that up to 3/4t red pepper and going from there.  Maybe even some spicy paprika would tune this up nicely.

Second, I would add more lentils so this was more of a lentil dish and less of a potato/parsnip dish.  I would double the lentils and add another 1-1/2 cups of water or stock.

Third, I like garlic and this would benefit from the equivalent of a 3rd clove of garlic.

The adventure was small in this one, but from time to time we need a simple quest like finding a shrubbery.

What Good Is a Spell-book Without a Pouch Full of Physical Components?

I have been wracking my brain trying to remember blatant “happy accidents” since John invited me to co-author on this blog, but so far, I haven’t been to sufficient therapy sessions, it seems, to un-repress them. Soon, I promise. Meanwhile, I will continue a bit on the theme from my first entry with regards to flexibility and working with left overs.

One key to establishing flexibility and adaptability in the kitchen is to develop a core set of “go to” items which you understand deeply and which occur over and over in your spell-book, ehem… cookbook. For me, these items include cans of stewed tomatoes, cans of tomato paste, marinated artichoke hearts, olives (green, black and kalamata), garlic, onion, capers, and then wet items such as olive oil, lemon juice, various vinegars, vegetable broth and then staples like lentils and barley. These are the physical components for casting the spells in your spell-book. I use these things to make everything from pasta sauce to tapenade, soups, stews, and cold salads. I buy them in bulk at warehouse stores. Seriously. Huge quantities. Notice that they’re all things which are unlikely to spoil. That’s the key.

With careful honing of skills, advanced Kitchen Klerics can also use them to polymorph yesterday’s soup into tonight’s sauce or stew.

Behold.

Last night I made lentil soup (what is it with us and lentil soup?!?!). On purpose. Here was my approach for the soup:

Simmer half a cup of green lentils in water until nearly fork tender. I use roughly a 3 to 1 water to lentil ratio. The trick is to not go 100% dry when you reach “done-ness” but you don’t want too much left over, either. Saute chopped leafy greens in olive oil until soft but not disintegrating. Lightly pulse one can of stewed tomatoes w/ basil until rough chopped. Combine with vegetable broth to create 4 cups of flavorful liquid. Add new liquid and greens to tender lentils, retaining any water still not absorbed by the lentils. Season with salt, all three: hot, half-sharp and smoked paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, dried oregano, sumac and dried cilantro. Bring all the new liquid up to heat quickly so the lentils and greens don’t go to mush. Add already cooked barley (see Alton Brown’s technique for baked barley) and serve.

To clarify, the salt, half-sharp paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, dried oregano, sumac and dried cilantro were in a blend provided by Penzey’s which they call “Turkish blend”. The hot and smoked paprika I added myself. Also, as a point of order, that’s as close to a formal recipe as you’re ever going to get from me. Fair warning.

Now, part of last night’s experiment was to avoid past disasters in which creating correct proportions between ingredients resulted in eight quarts of soup for two people. This was probably enough soup to serve four hungry people. I had some left over for lunch after last night’s dinner, and so tonight’s goal would be to use up what remains without simply eating more soup.

There was also a carton of mushrooms (baby portobello, which I think are really just re-branded button mushrooms) in the fridge. I hate mushrooms. I will eat nearly anything. Often in states of cooked or uncooked that would terrify most other people. I am a genuinely adventurous eater. My “no freaking way” list is very short. Wax beans are on it, and mushrooms are on it. Haggis is probably on it, but I intend to never find out. But we ended up with this carton of mushrooms because my wife wanted to make a particular recipe which called for them last Friday. I talked her out of including them in that recipe, but we already had the carton in the house. What to do? Clearly, I need a high level spell which will obliterate the evil fungus into something I can eat. This is where those “go to” components shine.

In a skillet saute chopped garlic and chopped mushrooms with a generous amount of olive oil. In a second skillet defrost a bag of sweet peas. Once the peas are no longer cold and the mushrooms have reduced down considerably, add a proportional amount of peas to the mushrooms (put the rest of the peas in the fridge and combine with black beans for a nice salad later in the week). Add some of the chopped leafy greens from the night before which didn’t go in the soup because you made too much of them (they were also from a frozen bag). Add chopped up artichoke hearts, drained of their marinade. Put last night’s left over lentil soup into the blender and render into a liquid. Add this to the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and drive out most of the water. Serve over baked barley or pasta. If it isn’t Wednesday or Friday, add a hard, well aged cheese, shredded.

There is no way I am going to taste those mushrooms. Viola! Food doesn’t get wasted, I don’t have to hold my nose while I eat, and once again, my tried and true “go to” elements save the day.

Speaking of skillets, I remain relatively convinced that the only cooking vessels you really need to own are one large pot for boiling pasta, a Dutch (or French) oven, two cast iron skillets, a couple of simple steel sauce pans and a wok. If you cook eggs, you need something nonstick, otherwise you don’t. The only items here that may ever wear out are the pasta pot and the sauce pans. The cast iron and the wok should actually get better the more you use them. Think of these items as the armor which is permitted for your Kitchen Kleric. Huge arrays of shiny pans or entire sets of nonstick are out of bounds for your character class.

I promise not to mention lentils or lentil soup again anytime soon. Really.

I Thought I Was Making Lentils not Soup

There is an unplanned lentil theme to start here.  That has a certain ironic humor about it since a theme of this blog is cooking adventures — and real adventures are rarely planned.

Lentils are easy to cook.  Or they are supposed to be, right?  They are apparently so easy that the bags I get do not have preparation suggestions other than “you are making soup”.  Not yet I wasn’t.  My quest was for plain lentils to go as a side with my meals this week.

As any inquisitive cook can do these days, I consulted a web search engine which gave me thousands of results.  Of course, there’s nothing fewer these days than thousands of results unless I’ve spelled my search criteria wrong or provided too much for it to know what I’m asking for.  It also seems that almost everyone on the Internet also wants to make lentil soup; but when someone is making plain lentils, we intuitively know if they are using red, white, yellow, green, or mauve.  Though hopefully not mauve because I think I may be confusing those with a bag of beads I’ve seen recently.

But from the thousands of mostly soup-related results, I did find a few suggestions on how to cook plain lentils.  Now equipped with a vague idea on how to do something simple, I figured I had it covered.  Lentils, one-and-a-half times that in water, cook until “tender”.

While cooking, I sometimes end up on the phone to catch up with relatives.  It is convenient since I have lots of time that doesn’t require intense thinking and I can talk and cook.  But what I should have been doing was not cooking my lentils as if they were rice.  And that right there was lesson #1.  Lesson #2 is that lentils continue to cook when removed from heat.  So the “tender and moist” look when removed from heat can quickly turn into “mushy and dry” if one is not careful.

As is my habit when I prepare something, I try it as intended and then determine if something else needs to be done with it.  I have rarely changed a recipe part way through to make a different-than-planned dish*, so I thought I could safely get away with serving the lentils as is. (* That’s more about stubbornness than proficiency.)

It took a couple of forkfuls at dinner to realize the lentils needed a Plan B that didn’t include weighing down the weekly trash with them.

The next morning I brought my old friends “onion” and “garlic” to the rescue accompanied by “carrots” and “vegetable broth” as support.  They were the clerics healing my savaged Lentil Warrior after battling the Cauldron of Death.  The end result of my lentil side-dish was a simple and tasty soup.  It could easily take rice to bulk it up, and I may even pull out a Bag of Spinach +1 to continue rounding it out.  Because, as has been said in another article, why serve leftovers the same way twice?

Lentil Polymorph Soup

2-1/2 c lentils

3-3/4 c water

  • Cook lentils until tender (requires monitoring, which I didn’t do, and that resulted in dry lentils … which resulted in soup!)

1 Large Sweet Onion, chopped small

1T garlic, minced

2 carrots, chopped small (would work with more, but this is what I had on hand)

4c vegetable broth

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

  • Over low heat in a large skillet (I used a #10 cast iron Wagner, a Griswold clone), sauté onions and garlic in about 1T of olive oil — enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  Sauté until onions are soft and begin to change color.
  • Over low heat in a large pot (I used a 6 qt. stainless, the kind with the aluminum composite bottom), heat carrots in about 1T of olive oil until soft — I did these separately to conserve on time.  These could be done in the same pot, starting with the carrots, and adding the onions and garlic after about 5 minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat.  Add those nice, dry, barely edible lentils.  Add vegetable broth.
  • Return to medium heat and bring to a simmer, and then remove from heat.  Everything is already cooked.  If this boils, or simmers for too long, you may end up with paste.  I happen to like a “chunky” lentil soup, so no blending happens here.
  • Salt and Pepper can be added either to the entire pot, or per bowl.  I prefer per bowl to let everyone judge for themselves.
  • A drizzle of olive oil to each serving also helps make it a little more filling and add flavor — fat is flavor, and olive oil is good fat.

And there you have my adventure with lentils that polymorphed into soup.  After some advice on how to cook lentils, I now believe I know the right way… but I’ll wait to see how that works out before sharing.

Cheers!

-jw-