Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Petite Red Lentil "Risotto"

The October 20, 2014, issue of "Time" magazine features a cover article by that culinary demigod, Mark Bittman. He examines why America has lost its way in the culinary wilderness, relying far too much on manufactured food, "fake" food, scary food. He asks Americans to give home cooking a try.

Home cooking, he argues, is easier, faster, better for your budget, and for your waistline than a diet based on fast food and restaurants:

I don't need encouraging to cook at home; I do it about six nights a week.

But his article got me to thinking about how I've avoided blogging about cooking. Why? Because it's hard to cook and photograph the steps at the same time. Because I don't have an assistant to hold a light, tilt a dish, or run out and cut me another sprig of basil to place on top of the pasta.

Excuses, excuses.

I'm going to change that. From now on, I'm going to share some easy, yummy, inexpensive recipes with you. Even if my photos aren't award-winning. Even if I'm in the kitchen by myself (I am!). Even if it is harder to do a cooking post than, say, an aren't-my-pugs-cute? post.

Today, it's a no-rice version of Risotto, which usually involves stirring a long time at the stove and three separate pots going at once.

This easy, quick version uses petite red lentils. Because of their tiny size, they cook up in a flash.

Start with the lentils: Pour them out in a casserole dish or something with a lip; pick through them and discard anything that doesn't look right. If they look dusty, give them a quick rinse in a bowl of cold water. For a generous serving for one, I used about 1/2 cup of lentils:

Cut a slice of onion, maybe 1/3 inch thick, and chop it up. Don't flip out about the size of the pieces; if most of them are about 1/3" square, you're good:

The quantities are approximate, but you want about 1/3 cup of chopped onion and a little more than that of lentils:

In a sauce pot that has a lid, cook the onion in a tablespoon or so of butter (or olive oil) until the onions soften and begin to turn translucent. Toss in a few sticks of fresh herbs, if you wish. I added marjoram, but oregano or even a little rosemary might be nice:

Add the lentils and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add enough water to fully cover everything--about a cup, maybe a little more. Bring to a boil, then drop to a simmer and cover.

Cook for 15 or 20 minutes. Stir occasionally and test the "doneness" of the lentils. If it looks like it's getting too dry but the lentils are still chewy or chalky, add a little bit more water. You're aiming for the lentils to be cooked through, but not entirely turned to mush. The brilliant orange lentils will have changed to an earthy, yellow-tan color:

When the lentils are cooked to a creamy, but slightly "al dente" consistency, remove from the stove and discard any little stalks of herbs that you see:

Top with some grated cheese and serve at once. I microplaned some Parmigiano-Reggiano:

Sit back and pat yourself on the back, because you just made a low-cost, low-fat yummy lunch or dinner for yourself.

This very basic recipe lends itself to lots of variations. You can top the cooked lentils with chopped-up leftover roasted or steamed vegetables, with cooked leftover meat, or with chopped, toasted nuts. You can add a swirl of hot sauce or olive oil. Double up on the cheese if you want. Or stir in some leftover, cooked beans or other cooked grains--oats or barley or quinoa or buckwheat would all be great.

The lentils can serve as an earthy, background taste to whatever you add to them.

Or they can come front and center with just a modest topping of grated cheese.

It's your meal, and your choice.


  1. Thank you! Perfect timing: I’m in the processes of eliminating all sources of animal protein, and looking for tasty, easy bean recipes. This looks yummy -- I’ll be trying it!



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