October 24, 2011

Ubiquitous Lentils

Ubiquitous spicy lentils

I make this dish when I remember to cook lentils, because the recipe makes a lot of lentils, and the dish can go in everything. These ubiquitous lentils were used to top a salad, as a side dish to enchiladas, they were stuffed inside calzones, and were consumed after Friday happy hour. I've been cooking up plain lentils and beans lately to have on hand to add to many other dishes. Pre-cooked plain beans and lentils can be added to soups, pastas, salads, top pizzas, thrown into burritos or quesadillas, or put on toast. Canned varieties are a fine substitute, but home-cooking them is easier and cheaper. I must have been thinking about Herbivoracious's Mexican cowboy beans when I made this, so I'm dedicating these lentils to that delicious blog.

I just got done reading Mark Bittman's essay Cooking Solves Everything: How Time in the Kitchen Can Save Your Health, Your Budget, and Even the Planet. If your familiar with Bittman, you'll know he writes about food and cooking with a real food real ingredients mentality. As a cook, it was inspirational and reminded me how important it is to share cooking, in whatever fashion, with others because home-cooked meals made from largely unprocessed foods are rare. If you cook simple healthy foods on a daily basis you have the ability to impact behaviors of others around you because cooking and feeding people involves people to react to what you are putting in front of them whether it tastes good or bad.

Cooking and sharing meals changes the perceptions of the how and what of cooking meals. Cooking impacts health because by cooking on a daily basis you have the ability to cook healthy foods and serve yourself normal portions of food, and avoid prepared foods that derive the majority of their flavor from salt (either as sodium or MSG), fat, sugar, and other flavor enhancers. These foods, the bulk of which are highly processed, or restaurant and fast foods, are bad for health. Bad. Bad. Bad.

Cooking, while not as obvious as it seems, supports local food economies. Bittman argues that cooks, that cook a lot get selective about ingredients, and are tuned into the cost of the food they are buying; they purchase seasonally, not because they are dedicated locavores, or trendy foodies, but because cooks purchase and select the foods they cook with. Most grocery stores, while they stock huge varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, run the best deals on seasonal produce. The best part about this, is that it's usually right in front of you as you go into any grocery store.

I have been following the Food Day events that have been going around nationally. My friend, Alyse, helped organize the NC Food Day where they organized over 1060 lbs of fresh fruits and veg for needy families. The Food Day campaign aims to raise awareness and action on local foods policies to support local food economies, promote sustainable agriculture, protect the environment by exposing big agribusiness marketing and manufacturing, and improve nutrition and chronic disease knowledge. It fits closely with the Bittman's essay because cooking is a one-step action to supporting better health and stronger food economies.

Ubiquitous Lentils

olive or peanut oil for sauteing
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
a tad bit of beer to reduce (optional)
2 tomatoes, chopped, or diced plain canned tomatoes
salt to taste
1 chipotle pepper, chopped
1 tsp herbs (optional, such as oregano or thyme)
1 tbsp cumin
2-3 cups cooked lentils, more or less, or 2 cans of lentils, rinsed and drained.
water to bring everything together, or broth
Fresh squeeze of lime

1. In a wide and deep saute pan, cook onions and garlic together in olive oil over medium-high heat. After they start looking golden, reduce them a bit with a splash or two of beer. You can use any variety you like. You don't have beer? No worries, just skip. Cooking and quaffing a beer are side by side activities in my book. I tend to drink a lot of Belgian strong golden ales (such as Duvel), so I used a few splashes just to see what it would taste like, it was good.
2. It will sound fancy and smell good. Stir in the tomatoes, salt, chopped chipotle peppers, herbs and cumin. Stir it all around, and then add the cooked lentils.
3. Add in the broth or water and cook until combined and reduced down a bit. Should take about 20 minutes, or less. Squeeze with lime and serve. Can store up to a week in the fridge.  

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