Lentils, Elvis Style
I first published a version of this article in a student publication while I was at Regent College. Several weeks afterward, a fellow student approached me and sung the praises of the curried lentil recipe (below.) “I’m just like Elvis Presley,” he said. “I just want to eat one dish all the time and it’s those lentils.” Now, as far as I know, Elvis was not one for vegetarian fare, but he did have a reputation for liking the same few dishes.
But it feels good when someone equates my cooking with the King.
Over nine years ago, when Justin and I married, we determined to deconstruct all traditional gender roles. He would cook and I would set the table. I suppose that’s only one deconstructed gender role, as he was going to be balancing the checkbook, too, but we won’t get into that.
I suppose the main reason for this decision was that Justin had plenty of good kitchen experience. I had kitchen experience, but it was not good. Justin could cook, though. He could chop an onion fast and not cry. He knew how to cut a carrot so that each piece was a different shape from all the other pieces. He had cooked for a lot of people at once—something that still frightens me—and some of these large groups included famous bands and musical artists: Vigilantes of Love, Sixpence None the Richer, Mike Knott.
I could set the table. Knife and spoon on the right, fork on the left, napkin outside the fork, coffee spoon and dessert fork above the plate. But no one cares about that; it even sounds boring written down.
But then October 14, 2000 came and went and I decided it was time to try something new. It was time to learn how to cook. The first thing I remember making was a giant pot of vegetarian split pea soup. We ate it for a week—lunch and dinner. Later I realized that I could have frozen it in little containers so we could have had variety in our diet that week. The other thing I remember making was curried lentils. This is something I still make regularly, which I cannot say about any other foods I learned how to cook those first eight months before moving to Vancouver.
Lentils are the fast food of the legume family. They cook in less than forty-five minutes—no soaking required. If you buy lentils already cooked in cans, you are wasting your money. Get dry lentils and save for a good knife. To cook one cup of dry lentils, add 3 cups water and cook for 45 minutes. Wash the dishes while you’re cooking them—they may be ready before the timer goes off. I like to cook lentil dishes in a slow cooker—which is very handy especially on days I work. The following two dishes are perfect for a cheap but tasty dinner.
Curried Lentils (serves 6)
Bring to a boil and simmer about 30 minutes:
1 cup lentils
2 and one-half cups water (or stock)
If you don’t use stock, 2 beef, chicken, or vegetarian bouillon cubes (or two teaspoons)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
One-forth cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
One-half teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons curry powder, or to taste (be careful as the hotness of curry powder varies)
Fry briefly. Add to lentils with 2 tablespoons lemon juice and chopped parsley. Serve over rice. I like to serve it with lots of little side dishes to put on top—chutney, shredded carrots, diced celery, raisins, almonds, and yogert.
If you want to cook this in a slow cooker, heat it up early in the morning. Put the oil in it; when it is hot, add the onion and garlic. Cook on high while you get ready for class or work. Right before you leave, add all the other ingredients. Turn the slow cooker down to low. Cook for at least 5 hours on low.
(Adapted from More With Less)
Monastery Style Lentils (serves 4-6)
One-forth cup olive oil
2 large chopped onions
1 chopped carrot
one-half teaspoon each thyme and marjoram
3 cups stock
1 cup rinsed lentils
salt to taste
one-forth cup chopped fresh parsley
1 one-pound canned tomatoes
one-forth cup dry sherry
two-thirds cup grated Swiss cheese
Heat oil in a large pot and sauté onions and carrot for 3 to 5 minutes. Add herbs and sauté 1 minute. Add stock, lentils, salt, parsley, and tomoatoes and cook, covered, until lentils are tender, about 45 minutes. Add sherry. To serve, put 2 tablespoons cheese in each bowl and fill with soup.
Adapt for slow cooker like the above recipe.
(From Diet for a Small Planet)