Monday, March 17, 2008

Compromise, Kale, and Some Magic Herbs

They say that in love, one must compromise. Relationships require that we meet each other in the middle, that we not demand our own way at all times. In theory, all this loving and compromising will keep the passion burning, prevent our love from growing stale.

Lentil stew, I love you but you are just way, waaaaay too giving.

It’s the basic single-girl-in-the-kitchen conundrum: in a world filled with “Serves 4” recipes, how does one keep the stove-fires a-burnin’? How many nights of leftovers can one woman eat?

I’ll tell you the answer to that question: about two. After that, my loyalty is in serious jeopardy. And I say that as someone who loves to curl up on the couch after work, nap for an hour, and then wander out to the kitchen and eat dinner ten minutes later. And we’re talking a real dinner here: homemade food, not Lean Cuisine or a frozen burrito.

Back to lentil stew. It’s a paradox: I am usually cooking for one and yet my favorite foods are stews and casseroles that can feed an army. Those foods say “home” to me. They speak of onions and garlic sauteing, tomatoes simmering, broth bubbling, and satisfied bellies. They are everyday foods, the foods we slurp at night and pack into lunch bags for the next day. They are foods that welcome an unexpected friend at the table, foods that adapt happily to whatever’s in season and abundant. For all of these reasons, I love lentil stew and its kin, but I still have to decide what to do with all those leftovers!

The first step is to start with a fantastic lentil stew, like the recipe for Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes below. After you’ve picked out your stew, start thinking starches. Think variety. If your leftover stew remains the same, you can still avoid eating the same meal five times in a row by pairing the stew with something different each time. From experience, I can tell you that Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes pair well with rice, cornbread, or roasted potatoes. To make those roasted potatoes really special, think herbs: herbes de Provence, to be exact. Uncultured Midwesterner that I am, I’m not one to gush about French cooking; I remain skeptical of a culture that calls cow’s cheek a delicacy. And I can’t stand Brie. But I love love LOVE herbes de Provence, that unlikely combo of wild herbs that grows free in the countryside of Provence. They’re magic herbs, those herbes de Provence, infusing roasted potatoes with savory, floral, and grassy herbal flavors. Best of all, if you have a decent spice rack, you can make your own herbes de Provence blend and feel like a real foodie.

Another option to make leftovers more exciting is to add something new to leftover lentil stew. Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes are quite willing to accommodate a few handfuls of lightly steamed kale; the kale in turn adds a hearty green vegetable and a little chewiness to the stew.

Finally, there’s the issue of dessert. When you think about dinner, is dessert the first thing on your mind? I conceive of dinner in the order in which it’s eaten: entrĂ©e, vegetable, dessert. I want dessert to complement the rest of the meal; I’m not one to build my meal around dessert. But I often make an effort to save room for it! If dinner is Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes and herbed roasted potatoes, might I suggest something creamy for dessert? How about Raspberry Cookie Pudding? These puddings are very little work to assemble (says the lazy couch napper), and the reward you get far outweighs the initial investment. No baking, just a little food processor action, some light stirring, and a bit of layering. It’s the lazy girl’s answer to dessert.

For the nights when it’s just you, leftover lentil stew, and a generously stocked pantry, keep the lentil love alive by mixing things up. Don’t let a good relationship grow stale!

*Suggested Menu:
-Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes (recipe below)
-Herbed Roasted Potatoes (recipe below)
-Raspberry Cookie Pudding (follow the link)

Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes
First found here on Smitten Kitchen who adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home (many thanks to both!)
Serves 4-5 when accompanied with a starch

This stew is one of my all-time favorite lentil stews. It’s incredibly flavorful, pairing curry powder and thyme together in a broth rich with onions, carrots, tomatoes, and garlic. I would not have guessed that curry and thyme would taste good together, but somehow it works. The final dish doesn’t really taste curried in an “Indian restaurant” way, but I am certain that the curry is essential to the final result. Feel free to tinker with the recipe; my version has already strayed a little bit from the recipe I first saw at Smitten Kitchen.

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 large onions, diced
4-5 carrots, diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
1 c. French green lentils
2 c. flavorful vegetable stock
2 tsp. mild curry powder
½ tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
Pepper to taste
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1) Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes to let the onions soften and start to brown. Stir occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. While the onions are cooking, in a large soup pot, pour the tomatoes and their juices. Use a potato masher to crush the tomatoes into a rough puree.
2) Pour the dry lentils into a fine-meshed sieve. Check the lentils by eye and with your hands to find and remove any stones or other non-lentil materials. Rinse the lentils well to remove any dirt or debris.
3) When the vegetable saute is done, add it to the soup pot with the tomatoes along with the lentils, vegetable stock, curry powder, thyme (rub and crumble it between your fingers to help release the flavor into the stew), salt, and pepper. Bring the whole thing to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for ~40 min. Stir occasionally. After 40 min., taste a few lentils to check their tenderness. If they are tender, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it sit for another 10 min. Add the vinegar and season to taste with more salt and pepper. Serve hot with the starch of your choice.

Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes with Kale (variation)

The addition of kale is one way to jazz up leftover lentil stew. I steam the kale to soften it and take off its raw edge. Kale is an especially tasty way to eat your greens in late winter.

~2 c. kale pieces (4-6 large kale leaves)
~2 c. leftover Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes (1 serving)

1) Get a vegetable steamer going: place a vegetable steamer in a pot of the right size such that it fits snugly but comfortably. Add an inch or two of water but make sure it sits below the steamer and not in the steamer (otherwise, you’ll boil your kale rather than steam it). Place it over high heat to get the water boiling.
2) Prep the kale: wash it well. Strip the leafy parts off the stems, stack the leafy parts, and tear them into bite-sized pieces. Do this until you have about 2 cups of lightly packed kale pieces.
3) Add the kale to the steamer basket, and place the lid on the pot. Let the kale steam for a few minutes or until it’s softened and wilted a bit.
4) While the kale is steaming, heat up your leftover Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes in a small pot or in the microwave. When the kale is done, add it to a deep bowl with the stew. Eat.

Herbed Roasted Potatoes
Serves 1-2, depending on how hungry you are and how much you love potatoes

2-3 medium red potatoes
1 tbsp. garlic-infused olive oil (I like Boyajian Garlic Oil)
½ - 1 tsp. herbes de Provence (recipe follows)
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2) Prep the potatoes: scrub them well, dry them, and cut or peel off any eyes or other funky, unappetizing spots. Chop them into wedges and place in a bowl.
3) Add the oil to the potatoes and toss them well to coat them. Add the herbes de Provence, salt, and pepper, and toss some more.
4) Spray a baking sheet lightly with cooking spray. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on the sheet. Place the sheet in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes are crispy and golden brown. About halfway through the baking period, use a pancake flipper to turn the potatoes over to let the other side brown. Serve hot from the oven.

Homemade Herbes de Provence

I described my homemade herbes de Provence blend in a post last summer. I’m still using that same batch! For convenience, I’ve rewritten it here with the potato recipe above.

2 tsp. fennel seed
2 tsp. marjoram
2 tsp. sage
2 tsp. basil
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. thyme
½ - 2 tsp. rosemary (I’m not a huge fan of rosemary, but if you are, feel free to add up to 2 tsp. of rosemary to your blend)

Place all ingredients in a bowl or a jar. Toss to combine and transfer to an air-tight storage container.


The Peanut Butter Boy said...

Lentils, I was just talking about them. I love lentils but never get around to using them because I only ever see them in lentil soup. Stew sounds a lot better though, I may have to try!

- The Peanut Butter Boy

Rosiecat24 said...

Hey Nick!

It sounds like you should give lentils a try. I think I like them better in thicker stews than thin, brothy soups. As a health-minded individual, I think you will enjoy the full flavors and few fat grams of this stew; I would guess it's about 3-5 grams of fat from the olive oil per serving, which is pretty darn good for an entree!

Thanks for stopping by!

The Peanut Butter Boy said...

Certainly sounds delicious. And there's nothing wrong with fat, as long as it's good fat!

Never cooked (or eaten) kale, I need to try it...

Rosiecat24 said...

Nick, get thee to a grocery store! Buy some kale! Cook it tonight!

Or just give it a try some time when you think of it :-)

Happy Friday!

Anonymous said...

I find I have the same problem with leftovers. Even when I'm cooking for two, there still is a lot of lentils left! I like the idea of not adding kale until the second day. Also, I usually make something like lentil stew in the beginning of the week and then eat it for lunch for the remainder.

Rosiecat24 said...

Hi, Robin!

I can imagine that cooking for two poses many of the same challenges as cooking for one. You could be even more challenged if your other is picky or refuses to eat leftovers (a not-uncommon thing in my experience)!

You are a woman after my own heart: the need for lunch is exactly why I make stews and casseroles: good leftovers, they travel well, and they reheat well in a microwave. If only we had a toaster oven in my lunchroom...that would be awesome!

Thanks for stopping by! Did you notice I updated my foodie link list with your *NEW* name?