There has so far been no restrictive diet in our strange, medically-fraught life that did not allow for the consumption of lentils.
Green lentils. Brown lentils. Red lentils. We have eaten our weight in lentils over the course of the last nine years. Lentils in stews, lentils in soups. The sound of dried lentils hitting the bottom of a pot, the bottom of a glass measuring cup, the floor: this is the soundtrack that precipitates the lowering of my shoulders from my ears, the loosening of my jaw from a clench, the finish line of a racing mind. We can always eat lentils. I can always make lentils.
Dairy free, egg free, soy free, nut free, wheat free, vegetarian, reflux-safe, fat free — all these diets accommodate lentils.
There’s nothing more profound in my life than these tiny, life-giving legumes. That sounds silly, but it is true. When all meals sounded strange, lentils were a constant. This compilation of recipes is a love letter to lentils.
HONEY BAKED LENTILS
I found some variation of this recipe on the web many years ago. It is a dump-it-in-the-bowl-and-cook-it easy dinner, provided you can be home for 90 minutes while it cooked. I can hastily prepare the ingredients and throw it all in the oven. Half an hour before it’s done baking, I can make a pot of rice, and dinner is done. In a time when I often had to make the ingredients in order to assemble the recipe for dinner itself, this was a blessing indeed. *Dairy-free *Egg-free *Nut-free *Wheat-free (if you use tamari or coconut aminos not soy sauce) *Soy-free (if you use coconut aminos) *Reflux-safe *Fat-free (if you skip the olive oil)
1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soysauce or tamari or, on a six-food-elimination-diet, coconut aminos
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ginger
1 clove garlic
1 small onion
salt & pepper to taste
Optional: add chopped carrots, sweet potato, or squash and just a little more water.
Bake in a covered dish at 350 until tender (about an hour and a half). OR…dump it all in a crockpot on low for 3-5 hours.
TAMARIND LENTILS & CHICKPEAS
I found the basic version of this recipe in Veganomicon, the amazing cookbook by Isa Chandra Moscowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I adapted it so that it would accommodate both a reflux-safe diet (no tomatoes, which is why I substituted pureed pumpkin) and a day when we were low on lentils (the horror!), so I added chickpeas. In an often otherwise-low-fat, low-protein diet, this recipe has lots of both. Unlike the recipe above, this is what my mother often calls a “potchke” recipe — lots of fussing, many pots, kind of time-consuming. It is outrageously delicious. Serve it over basmati rice.
*Dairy-free *Egg-free *Nut-free *Wheat-free (check your garam masala to be sure) *Soy-free *Reflux-safe
3 tbsp coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cumin
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup dried lentils
1/2 cup canned chickpeas
2 cups veg broth
2 tsp tamarind paste (available in most health food or Indian food stores)
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp pureed pumpkin (from a can is fine…possibly pureed sweet potato would work too)
1/2 tsp salt
Melt coconut oil in heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Add garlic and ginger and let sizzle for 30 seconds. Add the onion and fry until translucent and soft. Stir in garam masala, cumin, and cayenne, and stir for another 30 seconds until the spices smell fragrant. Add lentils, chickpeas, and veg broth, increase heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir and lower heat to medium-low. Partially cover and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have absorbed all the liquid and are very tender. This will be very thick.
In a small cup or bowl, combine tamarind, maple syrup, tomato paste/pumpkin, and salt. Scrape all of this mixture into the lentils and stir completely to dissolve the flavorings. Simmer for another 4-6 minutes and serve immediately.
GREEK LENTIL STEW
This is a staple dish of my whole community now, after my friend Clare began making it for every potluck. It’s cheap, it’s tasty, it’s open to endless variations, and almost anyone can make it. The smell of the bay leaf is a signal to my younger daughter that it’s cooking and also that she can count on several days of it in their lunches. A big batch of basmati rice rounds this out. This recipe initially came from Laurel’s Kitchen, an iconic cookbook.
*Dairy-free *Egg-free *Nut-free *Wheat-free (check your garam masala to be sure) *Soy-free *Reflux-safe (if you omit the tomatoes *Fat-free (if you omit the olive oil)
2 cups dry green/tan lentils
8 cups water
1/2 onion, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped (sometimes I add more because I love them)
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 small potato, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 to 2 tsp salt
1 can or about 2 cups chopped tomatoes (omit for a reflux-safe diet)
Put everything except the tomatoes in the pot and cook until the lentils are soft, about an hour. Add the tomatoes for about 3 minutes. Mix, cook for a few minutes more, eat over basmati rice.
Finally, a lentil story:
Once, when I was sick with the flu and strep throat at the same time, a friend showed up at my door, unbidden, with a steaming glass dish of lentil stew. Gratitude is not a powerful enough word for what I felt as I spooned this concoction into my mouth from under a mountain of blankets on my couch. It was sweet but not cloying, savory and soft and tart all at once. I’ve come to associate the taste of it with the feeling of being cared-for without asking. Few people mother the mothers when their own mothers are far away. This dish made me remember the soup I ate as a sick child — not in flavor, but in sentiment and healing properties.
It was the Stewed Lentils & Tomatoes recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who in turn adapted it from The Barefoot Contessa at Home. I have never made it as well as my friend did — but it’s still fantastic. *Dairy-free *Egg-free *Nut-free *Wheat-free *Soy-free *Fat-free (if you omit the olive oil)
Lentils are little tiny round magic-beans to me. Thank you, lentils!