My dad’s an agronomist; a retired one, in fact. He spent 37 years in the world of seed certification, walking wheat fields and identifying all manner of plants used for food, mostly here in Washington state. Despite his lighthearted threats over the years to set up his easel and give me and my sister legume lectures as a punishment, I credit him with instilling in me a love of all things lentil. (Was it reverse psychology at work?)
Lentils aren’t showy on their own, but can be a nice base for adding other flavors. The result can be smooth, thick, creamy, chewy or al dente, depending on how long you leave them bubbling away in the pot. Whether they’re Red Chief, Crimson, U.S. Regular, French Green or Beluga, lentils are a cheap, fiber-filled, high-protein dynamo of a food. Because of their health benefits, the American Heart Association actually recommends including beans, nuts and seeds at least 4 times a week for everyone, not just the plant-minded among us. Unlike most dry beans, you don’t have to soak lentils ahead of time and they cook fairly quickly. For these reasons and because they make me think of my leguminous-plant-loving dad, they’re a staple in my pantry and in my skillet.
Here’s an easy one-pot meal recipe that’s sure to warm you up in 2013.
Warm and Sweet Lentil Skillet with Roasted Cauliflower
Makes 4 servings of 1 cup each
Inspired by dal recipes from the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council’s The Pea and Lentil Cookbook, From Everyday to Gourmet
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small bite-sized pieces (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 2-inch long cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (a blend of ground spices you can find alongside garlic salt and powdered ginger at the grocery store)
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown lentils, rinsed
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 1/4 teaspoons minced garlic
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes or 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, pureed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup dried currants
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss cauliflower with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, turning once, until the pieces have some nice browned spots.
While cauliflower is roasting, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cinnamon stick and cook for 3 minutes or until onion is softened and translucent. Reduce heat to low and add turmeric, garam masala, chili powder, cumin and salt. Cook for 1 minute to warm the spices.
Add lentils and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon stick.
Heat remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil in a small second skillet over medium low heat. Add mustard seeds and cover. Cook, occasionally shaking the skillet as they pop. Reduce the heat to low and carefully add garlic and cook just a minute or two. (It can spatter or burn if the oil is too hot.) Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add tomato mixture to lentils along with currants, coconut and roasted cauliflower. Cover and cook for 5 minutes until heated through.
Nutrient content per 1 cup serving: 362 calories, 14 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 883 mg sodium, 48 g carbohydrate, 16 g fiber, 18 g sugar, 14 g protein, 919 mg calcium, 4.6 mg iron
What’s your favorite way to cook with these little nuggets of nutrition?