Installment #5 in our continuing series on Rice & Beans.
Here it is already the last day of November and we started this series on the 1st. Some of you are jumping in mid-stream, so for you, briefly – the idea behind this series of mostly vegetarian meals is that if we eat more frugally just once a week, with the money we save We Can Feed Another…(The post that introduced the series explains more fully the motivation. If you haven’t seen it yet, I hope you ‘ll take a look. ) This series will continue, once a week, up to the start of a new year. We haven’t taken this to Europe yet, so, how about a little something from sunny Spain?
Here’s a lentil stew, with mildly-spicy peppers, garlic roasted as well as fresh, tomatoes and sweet butternut squash. Again, we’re serving it over rice, because with legumes and rice we’ve got a “complete protein.” (Everything that meat could offer, at a fraction of the cost.) Like the other entries in this series, it satisfies. It fills, it warms and it lights up taste buds. I might not recommend this as a busy weeknight meal, but I do recommend it.
Lentil & Pumpkin – (or Butternut Squash) – Stew with Roasted Garlic
(over rice, serves 6)
- 1 large head of garlic, plus 4 minced garlic cloves
- 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the garlic
- 2 medium-size onions; 1 cut in half; 1 finely chopped
- 1 fresh thyme sprig (or more)
- 1 bay leaf (or 2)
- 1½ cups lentils (brown or green) – rinsed and picked over (I used French green lentils)
- 8 to 9 cups water, chicken broth (or right after Thanksgiving, turkey broth)
- 2 Italian frying peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped (see NOTE for substitutions)
- 2 large ripe tomatoes (or what you deem to be the equivalent in smaller ripe tomatoes)
- ½ pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cut in ½-inch to ¾-inch cubes
- ½ teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika (I love the smoked, but not necessary)
- Coarse salt & freshly-ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley (plus more for garnish)
- 1 medium-size pinch of saffron threads
- 2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar, preferably aged, or best-quality wine vinegar, or more to taste
- One pot of cooked rice
NOTE on the peppers: Italian frying peppers have not been easy for me to find. They’re a fairly long, yellow and mild pepper. I substituted an equal amount of Anaheim pepper and found that worked well. You may also be able to locate mild Banana peppers, or Cubanelles or Jimmy Nardellos. Anaheim would be a milder alternative.)
Preheat an oven (or toaster oven) to 400°F.
Lop the top off the head of garlic, exposing the cloves inside and brush the cut edge with plenty of olive oil. Plop it in a small baking dish, cover it and bake for about 25 or 30 minutes. When it comes out of the oven place it, along with an onion cut in half, 1 or 2 bay leaves and a sprig or so of fresh thyme into a double-layer of cheesecloth. Tie the little bundle up with kitchen twine.
Into a 4-quart (or larger) pot – pour in 8 cups of water or chicken or vegetable stock. (We had turkey stock and used that.) Pick over the lentils and rinse well; add them to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow to boil for a couple minutes, then skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Add the cheesecloth bag, along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, half of the peppers, and half of the tomatoes.
(To remove skins from tomatoes – on the bottom of the tomatoes using a sharp knife, score a little X. Place tomatoes in boiling water for only a few seconds – you could use the water or stock you’re boiling for the lentils – remove them with slotted spoon. Cool briefly, then slip the skins right off.)
Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the pumpkin or butternut squash and cook until almost tender, about another 20 minutes.
(The sofrito:) While the lentils are cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion and remaining pepper and cook, stirring until soft but not browned. Add the paprika and the remaining tomato and continue cooking until the tomato has softened and its liquids reduce. (About 5 minutes.)
At this point, the cheesecloth bag is still in the pot. Not time to remove it yet. Add the onion mixture from the step above. If the lentils seem too thick, add a bit more liquid. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper, tasting as you go. Simmer until the lentils and squash are very soft, about 10 minutes longer. (It’s fine if some of the squash begins to disintegrate a bit.
Remove the cheesecloth bag from the pot and discard all but the head of garlic. Into a mortar put a bit of salt, the fresh minced garlic, the parsley and the saffron. Using a pestle mash it to a paste. Add to it garlic squeezed from the head you removed from the cheesecloth. Mash it all together until very well combined. Add a couple tablespoons of liquid from the soup. Stir well and allow it to sit for 2 or 3 minutes. Stir it into the lentils. Add the vinegar. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or vinegar as necessary. Let the lentils cool for 5 or 10 minutes before ladling over cooked rice. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.
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