Thursday, February 17, 2011

Carrots & Lentils for Winter

So, the Ladies are coming over for a lunchy tea tomorrow afternoon, and with the rain beating down and a raw chill in the air (especially here, where icy water is actually dripping down the INSIDE of the windows), something lovely and hot must be served.

The other day, hungry but with not much in the larder, I had a sudden flashback to a NYT recipe for a kind of thick, terra-cotta-colored potage. Red lentils were involved, I seemed to remember, along with oven-roasted carrots and some warming spices. I sifted through the many torn-out, wrinkled recipes in my big, messy, much-loved recipe binder to no avail, before trying the obvious fix: entering "roasted carrots and lentils" into the NYT search engine. Instantly, there it was, circa 1998, by Molly O'Neill, Roasted Carrot & Lentil Ragout (scroll to the end of the piece for the recipe).

This is as easy, cheap, and nutritious a thing as one can imagine. Plus, it's a good pantry dish to remember during spates of bad weather, since you'll very likely have all the ingredients (carrots, onions, lentils) on hand. The spices are quite flexible--you could use any number of Moroccan or Indian-style spice combinations to very good effect, things like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, coriander, garam masala, etc.

This time, I'm thinking of opening a big (28-oz) can of whole plum tomatoes, halving them, and putting them into another baking pan to roast alongside the carrots and onions. This would concentrate and caramelize them a bit. Then, I'll add in the tomatoes (chopped) as well as the reserved tomato liquid from the can when the rest of the veg are ready to simmer with the lentils. Some coconut milk at the end would make for a richer, creamier dish, or you could buzz the whole thing in a blender for a smoother puree.

Of course, however satisfying to our peasant forebearers, pulses and beans can be a bit dull. They can always benefit from an acidic pick-me-up right before serving. A big squeeze of lemon or lime juice helps any lentil dish. Fresh salsa perks up black-bean soup, and a shake of hot-pepper vinegar (or a few dribbles of hot sauce) gives a lift to any long-simmered beans.

In keeping with the theme of Kitchen-Cabinet Homesteading, I had a sudden brainwave that afternoon while looking at a half-emptied can of pineapple chunks sitting in the fridge after the morning's Grape Nuts. Quickly diced, the chunks and juice went into the lentils, where they added a lovely tropical tang, doing the more or less the same thing as tomatoes would. (Only do this if you have plain old pineapple in unsweetened pineapple juice, not pineapple in any other kind of juice or syrup.)

Why red lentils rather than the usual greeny-brown ones? Well, red lentils break down quickly into a gently nubbly sludge that I find very comforting. And the deep-orange color is cheering when everything outside is so gray.

So, I'm going to play around with Molly's recipe for tomorrow. Will post once I've got my own version down. And stay warm! It's crazy hailing out there!

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