5 ways to love lentils


bowl of lentils
A bowl of cooked lentils on hand makes good eating easy.


I’ve been hungry for lentils lately — maybe it’s their folate I’ve been missing, or their magnesium. Lentils are such nutritional powerhouses, though, that it could be any of a number of nutrients prodding my appetite: molybendum, copper, manganese, even fiber.

So I went ahead and indulged that hunger. A pound of dried brown lentils cost considerably less than $2, and since a pound of lentils yields about 5 cups when cooked, I was able to have a little lentil love every day for five days. Five meals for pennies each? I’m in!

A cup of cooked lentils is a standard serving, and that’s really a lot of food. Some of these dishes were a little more than I could eat by myself. If you’re cooking for more than one person, you may want to double these amounts. Note that I’m not really telling you how much of each spice to use, because I think you’re smart enough to know how much you like those flavors.

Here’s a dirty secret, though: I really, really don’t like leftovers. Knowing this about myself, I realized that I needed to vary the flavors each day to avoid palate fatigue.

On Sunday afternoon, I cooked a pound of dried lentils — rinse the lentils and pick them over for any dirt or rocks (I’ve never found any), then add them to a heavy pot with 3 cups of water. There’s no need to soak lentils. You want to cook in water, not broth, because you will add different flavors every day later. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook 20 to 25 minutes — you want the lentils a bit al dente for this, because they’re going to be cooked further in each dish. When they’re al dente, remove from the heat and drain. Transfer the lentils to a large bowl to cool, and when cool, refrigerate, covered.

This was my treasure trove.

For Sunday supper, I put a cup of lentils in a heavy pot with cubed sweet potato, canned diced tomato, chopped onion, garlic and a bit of frozen spinach. Salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme and marjoram for seasonings. I added enough chicken broth to make things on the soupy side, and simmered until the vegetables were tender.

While the soup simmered, I made Monday lunch: A cup of lentils, chopped green onion,  1/2 of a cucumber chopped, and a couple of roasted red peppers, also chopped. Go ahead and add the grated zest from 2 limes. For the dressing, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, salt and pepper. Add a bit of crushed red pepper flakes if you wish. Pack up for carrying (it won’t need refrigerating) and carry some chopped cilantro separately, to add just before eating.

For Tuesday dinner, it was mujadara, the humble standby lentil-and-rice dish of the Arabic world. This required rice, so I cooked enough rice for a couple of meals, knowing that Wednesday’s lunch of dal and rice would also want it. To make the mujadara, sauté a thinly sliced onion in oil over medium heat until it is very dark and crisp, almost burned. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain while you prepare the lentils and rice: Combine 1 cup lentils with 1 cup cooked rice in a large, lightly oiled skillet over medium-low heat; cook, stirring, until the lentil-rice mixture is hot. Serve in bowls with a garnish of the crisp-fried onions and yogurt or sour cream if you wish.

After dinner, I prepared Wednesday lunch: a very basic dal with Indian flavors: Sauté chopped onion, fresh ginger, cumin, turmeric, lots of garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant — this will take just a moment. Add frozen cauliflower and a can of diced tomatoes, if you wish. Stir in a cup of par-cooked lentils and cook, stirring, until heated through. Pack up for lunch with a cup of cooked rice, lime quarters and chopped cilantro. Heat this one up at lunch time, adding the juice from the lime and the cilantro just before eating.

Finally, for Thursday dinner, I used the last of the lentils in an Egyptian lentil soup: A cup of lentils in a heavy pot, together with a cut-up peeled potato, chopped onion and a couple of big cloves of garlic. While that simmered, I made a spice paste of cumin, turmeric, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and a little olive oil, blended in the food processor. Added the spice mix to the soup, and when the vegetables were tender, puréed the soup to a chunky texture. Season with fresh lemon juice and chopped cilantro just before eating.

“braised lentils” by jules is licensed under CC BY 2.0













Persuasion by pot and pan


Love Eat Cooking Frog Valentine's Day Kitchen
The way to a man’s heart, etc., etc.

God doesn’t love a picky eater, and neither do I.

You may think a picky eater just doesn’t like a lot of food. His palate is delicate, he will argue. But that isn’t what underlies this pernicious trait. Picky eaters want control: They want to control you, if you’re the one with the dubious privilege of cooking for them, and they want to control their environment. They don’t like surprises, and they have no interest in the unfamiliar, the new, the untested.

It seems mingy to me, this bald-faced rejection of the great wondrous bounty of edibles on this planet. It seems mean-spirited and solipsistic to reject foods that others may rightly call delicacies, if not cultural treasures. When I accepted a roasted sheep’s eyeball from the Moroccan tribesman at a feast laid on in my group’s honor, I knew it was unlikely that I’d ever need to eat another. But how ungrateful, how insulting, it would have been, to say “Ewwww!” and turn down something that the proud tribesman clearly considered delectable.

Recently I read an interesting piece about the French philosopher-mathematician Blaise Pascal. In it, Arthur Markman, a psych professor at The University of Texas in Austin, explained Pascal’s 17th-century ideas about persuasion. If you want to change someone’s mind, Markman says, try Pascal’s approach:

“If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation.”

Certainly, this is good advice even 400-plus years later, and something I simply must try the next time I’m trapped by some blowhard Trump supporter parroting the Fox News/Breitbart party line and I fear that my head will explode.

Ahem. Back to the matter at hand.

Now, it happens that I have a diabolical streak, especially when it comes to picky eaters. If it is my torment to cook for one or several, I invariably place one dish on the table that doesn’t quite meet their inconsiderate demands. I use that dish as a teaching moment, and it has worked surprisingly well.

I’ve told this story before, and some readers here may remember it. In conversation before a casual dinner chez moi, a friend told me that he ate only potatoes. He didn’t care, he said proudly, for any other root vegetable.

This irked me. And not a little bit.

So, on the night, I set a great bowl of silky parsnips puréed with heavy cream and butter on the table, to go along with the lemon-scented roast chicken and the salad and the dry-fried garlicky green beans I’d prepared for the other guests and myself.

Picky-eater guest swiped his finger puckishly through the parsnips and popped his finger into his mouth. “Yummmmm,” he said with pleasure. “These are the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever tasted.”

I smiled a wicked smile. “No,” I said. “They’re not. They’re –”

“Yes, they are!” he cut me off, sudden irritation flushing his cheeks. Again, I smiled a wee smile of satisfaction. My satisfaction grew immodestly as I watched him polish off the best part of the bowl. “Rob,” he groaned, rubbing his newly rotund belly. “You have to teach me how to make those potatoes.”

“Well, first you peel the parsnips and put them in acidulated water so they won’t brown …”

“I HATE PARSNIPS!” he roared.

“No, you don’t.” I gestured at the emptied bowl, and everyone laughed, including the picky eater.

What I was saying to him, in not so many words, was this: Yes, yes, I hear that you can’t abide parsnips the way you’ve had them prepared before. But have you considered that you may like them prepared in other ways?

A detestable man of my acquaintance years ago tricked his guests: He served them canned cat food and told them it was pâté. He thought he was clever; I thought he was guilty of betrayal of their trust and worse, a refusal to give to honest food its proper dignity.

I tricked my guest by offering him something superb, and by challenging his intransigent picky-eaterness. If he found parsnips so tempting, what else might he change his mind about? If the nephew who swore he “hated” blackberry cobbler could be persuaded to taste first a molecule, then a crumb, then a half-teaspoonful, then a serving, what else might he find himself wrong about?

Life is rich and full of wonders. Many of those wonders appear on tables around the world. I am confident that a generous God put them there not only for our nourishment, but for our pleasure, too. How ungrateful it is, how insulting to that generosity, to reject those gifts.




Welcome, and thanks for stopping by


I’ve been moved lately to connect with people who think more like me, who prize the same things that I do, and who are, perhaps, unsettled in our current political climate.

Most of this blog will relate to food and its sources, distribution, preservation and preparation. Sometimes there will be news; sometimes recipes; sometimes information about products I have tried and found useful enough to share with you. But I don’t live in a vacuum.

You’re also likely to find my thoughts on knitting, gardening and cycling; on my animal companions; on the seasons and the weather; on books and movies; on politics, social welfare and the economy; on philosophies of living; in short, almost anything that intrigues me may show up here. Sometimes posts will be silly; sometimes somber. Sometimes posts will be calm and soothing; sometimes they will ring with anger.

Ideally, this will be a two-way street, and I welcome your thoughts. Here are the ground rules:

  • This is my blog, not yours. I’m inviting you into my mental living room, after all. Be nice, both to me and to other commenters. Mean people suck, and their comments will be deleted immediately.
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  • If there’s something you’d like to discuss, by all means contact me (there’s a handy email thingy on the “contact me” page, where you’ll replace my email address with yours). I promise a swift response to your emails — although I don’t guarantee that we’ll discuss your topics here.
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My aim is to create a friendly and welcoming space, where we can discuss all kinds of things — just as we might if we met for coffee or a glass of wine some sunny afternoon. Pull up a chair, won’t you?