Friday, March 7, 2008

Lemon Lentils and Mahogany Rice


I have never claimed that my cooking is fancy. Though, I have to say that I'm not sure what fancy means anymore. Does fancy mean complex preparation? Does it refer to expensive or rare ingredients? Some of my cooking is complex and some uses odd stuff, so maybe it's fancy. The important thing is that it is cooked without intended pretension. That counts for something, right?

Tonight's dinner is a mix of simple and fancy. The simple part is the preparation of the lentils and the fancy thing is the inclusion of black japonica rice, which is a blend of short grain black and medium grain mahogany rice. You can probably find it in health-food stores or large supermarkets with an organic/natural/overpriced section.

We eat lentils a few times each week, and we really never get sick of them. They're high in fiber, complex carbs, protein and other nutrients and are DIRT CHEAP. They're also very filling (what with all that fiber) and versatile, which makes them a good staple to have on hand. There are many varieties, though most regular supermarkets have only red (small and salmon-colored) green and brown.

Most lentils are well suited to some kind of acidic seasoning. My personal preference is to pair brown/green varieties with lemon and red with tomato, though I'm not a fascist about it. Tonight, I felt like I needed something lemony, so I paired what was left in my brown-lentil canister (yes, I have a brown-lentil canister) with the butt-end of a lemon that's been staring at me from the top shelf of the fridge along with some olive oil, garlic and salt.

Lemon+garlic+olive oil+salt = Lebanese Crack

That was a bit of brilliance passed down to me by a waitress at the best Lebanese restaurant in the universe. The combination of those simple ingredients is tantamount to the bliss we can only hope to achieve in our most glorious moments of self-fulfillment. Once you find the right proportions, it is a drug like no other. And this magical substance, even with the dragon-garlic-breath factor, will not leave you penniless and alone like so many other addictive substances.

I'm a big believer in the rice cooker. For those of you who don't have one: shame on you. You can get one for $9.99 at most drugstores or fancier ones at the Target/-marts. It is one of the greatest sloth/idiot-proof devices ever invented. You add rice and water and push a button and, like magic, you get cooked rice in 20 minutes and you don't have to watch it or even hope for the best.

*Note that the cup measurements below are for the rice cup that comes with a rice cooker. It's less than a standard cup. I think it's about 3/4 of a standard cup, but I haven't bothered to test that.

Mahogany Rice

1.5 cups rice
3 cups water
1 vegetable bouillon cube
2 tbsps dried minced onion

1. Rinse rice and add to the rice pot with the minced onion.
2. Dissolve the bouillon in the water and add to the rice pot.
3. Cover the pot and push the button.
4. Wait for magic (disguised as the completion of an idiot-proof cooking cycle devised by some brilliant engineer somewhere).

Lemon Lentils

1 cup of lentils
1.5 cups of water
1 large clove of garlic
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon (about 2- 3 tbsps lemon juice)
salt

1. Rinse the lentils and pick them over for little stones and other bits of nature that usually end up in the package.
2. I don't know why I do this, but I like to pour boiling water over my lentils and let them sit for 10 minutes or so. I probably read that somewhere and just internalized it without remembering the reason why.
3. Drain the lentils and set aside for a minute.
4. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat and saute the garlic just until it begins to smell fragrant.
5. Add the lentils and stir to coat with the oil/garlic.
6. Add the water and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes until most of the water is absorbed.
7. Before all the water is absorbed, give it as much juice from the lemon as you can squeeze and salt to taste and let it cook, uncovered, until all the water is absorbed and the lentils can just be smooshed with a fork.

My vegetable choice for this meal was a bit lame. I had half an English cucumber I wanted to use up, so I chopped it with a large carrot and added a splash of vinaigrette and a half a cup of homemade purple-cabbage sauerkraut, that now has a permanent place in my fridge. It was an oddly fresh and salty-sour salad that almost added a nice contrast to the hearty lentils and nutty rice.

Sorry, that sounded a bit 'foodie', didn't it?

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