One Recipe, Many Ways

Recently, I wrote about an amazing lentil stew — one I’ve had a couple of times since then. The funny thing is that I haven’t made the recipe the same way twice. In fact, what I use isn’t so much a recipe as it is a suggestion.

The basics are simple: cook lentils in well-seasoned liquid much like you’d cook risotto — add about a quarter to half cup of liquid, let it absorb into the lentils, then add more. While it takes a bit longer to make lentils using this method, I like it because the lentils absorb a lot of flavor from the liquid instead of all that deliciousness getting poured down the drain with the cooking liquid.

Once you have the cooking-the-lentils part down, that’s where variety comes into play. I served my first dish up with basic braised greens and an egg. I also added chopped tomatoes to my lentil dish. It was pretty darn good!

At the end of the process, I had lentils that were soft, but not falling apart. I wanted them to have good texture and body. This took about 25 minutes of slow cooking; I filled the minutes with other prep work so the whole dish came together nicely.

The second time I made the dish, I moved away from French-Italian flavors to Indian flavors. The lentils were seasoned with a tumeric-and-cumin curry, with just a dash of cayenne to surprise the palate. I sauteed thinly sliced onions before starting the lentils. Instead of the egg, I served spinach with paneer cheese.

Finally, I took a trip into coconut milk-land (one of my favorite places to go!). I followed the same basic recipe for cooking the lentils, though in this case, you can absolutely get away with cooking them in a pot of water — most of the flavor here will come from the curry.

Once your lentils are ready, saute some onions in coconut or canola oil — the coconut oil will add a subtle flavor — in a skillet. Then add some minced garlic and ginger — saute for about a minute. Toss in some grated lime zest, diced tomatoes (drained), red pepper flakes if you like them, a dash of cumin. Saute for another minute or two, then add up to a can of coconut milk; the amount depends on how liquid-y you want this dish. Finally, finish the dish with a good squeeze of lime juice. It will add a lot of freshness and the acid from the lime will perk up the lentils even more.

Serve over braised greens, rice, or even a baked potato. Or you can eat it out the pan. I won’t judge.

I approach most recipes this way. I look at the template provided, and then start modifying to suit my taste and ingredients. Obviously, I could substitute other beans, such as chickpeas, in the above dishes, though I’d start with cooked chickpeas due to time constraints. Any kind of greens will be perfect.

And, of course, the coconut curry would be perfect with carrots and peas added to the mix. In fact, just thinking about adding those veggies has set my menu for later this week!

Having all these options allows me to shift my focus, depending on my needs. The first approach is a great side or main dish, as is the second. The final method is clearly a main dish, especially if I add lots of veggies. All methods take about a half hour to forty-five minutes to put together.

How do you approach recipes? Are you a “cook exactly as written down” person or a “it’s just a suggestion” person?

Tip of the Week

I always add lemon juice, lime juice, tomato juice, or even vinegar to my lentils. They respond well to a bit of acid.

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

Obviously, we’re going with a second lentil stew this week. But because I am craving lots of protein, I’m going to mix it up a bit and add chicken to my lentils with coconut milk. If you’d prefer yours without, it will be just as delicious!

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