I have been writing quite a bit about a cook's mindset recently, so today I thought I'll give you a more practical example.
We had a pot of red lentils last night. In fact (and even better), it was the leftovers from the pot of lentils from the night before. It was a chilly evening, and it had been a busy day in the shop so I wasn't in the mood of overthinking dinner (aka too tired to cook). Both deeply comforting and really simple, a pot of lentils perfectly fits that bill. And red lentils cook really fast.
The basic recipe goes like this: sauté chopped onions, add spices/aromatics/veggies, add red lentils, add liquid, cook until ready (20 mins or so). That's it!
Wherever you see a recipe for red lentil soup or stew (or dhal) it will be a variation of this basic pattern. (Any stew or soup for that matter, is a variation of this basic recipe!)
How you vary the recipe really depends on you: your preferences, your ingredients to hand, the time you have.
Here is my version in a bit more detail - take it as a guide NOT as a rule!
Sauté some chopped onions.
> I like olive oil, butter or ghee, or a combination.
> I usually add other aromatic or chunky veg here, whatever I happen to have (leeks, celery, carrot, fennel, squash, beetroot, potato, sweet potato,...)
> Dice smaller if you want it to cook faster. Crumpled bits from the back of the fridge are OK.
> You don't have to add veggies but it's a great opportunity to add both flavour and goodness, so why miss it? They do add chunkiness, so if you prefer the end result smooth, put through a blender at the end.
Add some spices, keep cooking a bit longer.
> I like cumin, coriander, allspice and garlic - at the very least. I usually add more things like fennel, thyme, clove, fenugreek, nigella, curry leaves and ginger too.
Add red lentils, stir to coat in spicy oil
> About a mugful for two people will be enough for leftovers.
> I rinse them in a sieve before adding (nothing terrible will happen if you don't rinse them).
> Don't forget to add salt!
> You can use water, stock, tomatoes, coconut milk, or a combination.
> I start with triple the volume of lentils, and watch as they cook and soak up the liquid. I usually add more, and you probably need to add more too, especially if you like your lentils soupy - I like mine quite thick.)
> I usually use a tin of chopped or peeled tomatoes, but you could use (or add) fresh tomatoes or just use a couple of spoonfuls of tomato paste.
> Use coconut milk (or shavings from a block of creamed coconut) instead or in addition to the tomatoes for a sweeter, creamier result.
Simmer until lentils (and any veggies) have softened
> This will take about 20 mins or so.
> At this point you could add any green veggies if you like (e.g. a few handfuls of kale, spinach or chard), and/or fresh herbs too. Simmer a bit longer until greens have wilted.
Finish the dish to serve
> Add fresh herbs to garnish
> Coriander is great, but I use anything I have (I keep fresh herbs in the freezer)
> Finely chopped fresh chillies and/or garlic, briefly fried in oil are great too.
> A squeeze of lemon juice or something else with zing (pickles, ferments, a dash of vinegar) will give the dish a lift - try it!
In our house this is the ultimate quick and nourishing supper (sometimes served with sausages on the side). Also great for those "no food in the house" moments (we always have onions, lentils and tomato tins lurking somewhere, and a spice rack).
What do you think? Have you, or would you use red lentils to the rescue? Let me know, I'm curious!