May 2, 2010

Lentil Stew

I came across this recipe on the back of a bag of lentils when I was a newlywed. Lentils?, you ask, with a sickened expression (especially if you are from the Midwest). Stick with me. I was looking for a recipe that hit all the finer points, and this one did. It was cheap, it was easy, and it was healthy--a great way to sneak nutrition into my junk food loving husband. Not pretty, but deee-licious. But on our young newlywed budget, I'll be honest, 'cheap' made the strongest argument.

Maybe that's why, even though I've had some problems executing the recipe over the years, I've stuck with it until I found just the right balance.

So here was the problem:

First off, it was called, "Lentil Pilaf", and pilaf is one of those nails-on-a-chalkboard words for me. I just can't bring myself to call it that. It brings to mind a rubbery dish served in a hospital cafeteria in the 1960's by a lady with a hairnet and black horn-rimmed glasses. Un. Appetizing. So even though it is more of a pilaf, I prefer to call it "stew"(okay, so "stew" is admittedly not much better, but what can I say? It's lentils.)

My second problem with the recipe was that I could never seem to get the consistency right, even though I was using all the same measurements. I finally realized that the type of brown rice I was using had a lot to do with it.

Brown rice can be confusing to purchase. Which do you choose? There is short grain brown rice, long grain, parboiled, the this brand and the that brand. I think I've tried every type and brand on the market, and no wonder some people shy away from brown rice! Some brands taste extremely bland, others have strange textures, while still others turn out like mush.

But brown basmati? Heaven!

Brown basmati rice turns out light and flavorful, and it has this fantastic scent to it when it's cooking, not unlike white basmati rice. I think it's a perfect choice for white rice lovers to start with if they're thinking of converting to whole grains. But back to the lentils.

What will knock this recipe out of the park is a good broth. I make my own--homemade is simple and better than anything on the market. That's another post.

If you are looking to consume more complex grains, are watching carb intake, or are stearing clear of glutens or meat, Lentil Stew is compatible. And it can be altered to suit your tastes. You substitute broccoli or cauliflower for the carrots or celery or spice it up with curry powder. You could probably even add an egg or two and breadcrumbs and fry portions of it up into patties. It's one of those versatile recipes.

Depending on how you like lentils; on the firm side or soft, verging on mushy, is how you will gauge the amount of liquid you add. You can start with four cups and add more if necessary along the way. If it everything seems done and there is still excess liquid you can certainly strain it out.

Serves 8, but you can halve the sure to use around 3 cups of liquid in that case.

Lentil Stew

1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. butter
4 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth
2 cups lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones
1 cup brown basmati rice
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley for garnish, optional

Saute the veggies and garlic in the oil and butter until onions start turning translucent. Add the chicken broth, lentils, rice, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for around forty minutes, stirring every now and then.

I often add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and my husband adds hot sauce.

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