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.