Updated: Apr 14, 2021
Cooler weather has finally arrived! As a cook you get kind of used to working in a hot kitchen environment, but last weekend’s rain and cooler temps were a very welcome change. Fall has always been my favorite time year and not just because of the cooler weather. Fall at the farmer’s markets is such an exciting time, and I’m still learning and getting used to all the bounty you have here in San Diego. Having lived in NYC for nearly 15 years and growing up in the Midwest, I’m definitely used to a different array of produce in early November; but I’m not complaining about what I’m seeing here from pomegranates to carrots to late season tomatoes! When I walk through our FarmWorks garden I’m still amazed by the types of produce I see still growing there. Back East, the farmers would be pushing out their Fall harvest and preparing for the long, dark winter (which means storage root vegetables until Spring) but here I’m still seeing fresh basil, ripening tomatoes, and zucchini! All of this produce diversity got me thinking about dishes we use in the kitchen to take advantage of this assortment. Then, as I was preparing an upcoming menu I found myself turning to an old reliable ingredient that is key to so many of our participants’ cuisines. The lentil! And even more specifically, red lentils! Indigenous to central Asia, lentils are one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world with evidence for this dating back nearly 15,000 years. They are a major part of numerous cuisines, each with their own unique variations on how to utilize them. I would say over 90% of our CHOP participants use them at home to some degree! They are a perfect food for many reasons. Not only are they full of nutrients but they cook quickly and pair well with nearly any array of spices and herbs. In particular, I always keep a bag of red lentils (sometimes called masoor dal) around because they cook particularly fast (as little as 15 – 20 minutes!) and give a delicious, creamy texture to any dish. Once you get used to working with them they become the perfect vehicle for any assortment of random vegetables and herbs you may need to use up in the fridge. And while I love to cook them in a little vegetable stock or coconut milk for extra flavor, with the right spices you can make a delicious, simple lentil stew with nothing but water! And best of all, they are super inexpensive! So, I encourage you to get a small bag of red lentils to keep in your pantry and experiment with them. I also find that any stew or dal made with them, particularly if you are using a lot of spices, tastes even better the next day which makes them a perfect candidate for a make-ahead meal. Here is just one simple recipe for them which we used during our Nepal Family Meal week. This dish, Dal Bhat, is an common food eaten all across the country. The possibilities for variation of spices, vegetables, and cooking liquid are endless, so feel free to experiment! I also rarely measure my liquid for this and just cover the lentils with my liquid and add a little more as needed during cooking to achieve the right consistency. Once you get used to them you’ll love how easy they are to cook!
Dhal Bhat 1 Cup Red Lentils (Masoor Dal) 1 Small Onion, Diced 1 Bell Pepper, any color, small dice 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced 1 15 oz can Tomatoes, crushed or pureed 1 Tablespoon Cumin 1 teaspoon Coriander 1 teaspoon Turmeric 1 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes (Optional) 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil or Butter Lemon Juice to taste Instructions
In a medium sized pot, add the olive oil or butter along with the onions and bell pepper. Cook gently until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more until fragrant
Add the spices and cook 30 seconds more until fragrant
Add the lentils and tomatoes
Add enough water or stock to cover the lentils, about 2 cups or so
Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook gently. Add water or stock as needed, the lentils will absorb liquid as they cook so keep an eye on it. Cook until lentils are no longer crunchy and sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon, about 20 minutes or so.
Adjust consistency with more liquid if needed and season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve with rice or your favorite grain!
Note: Feel free to use any type of flavorful liquid such as chicken stock, coconut milk (mix with about half water otherwise it’s a little thick), or tomato juice. Use any spices or herbs you want as well as any array of vegetables!