Smitten with Stewed Lentils

Have you ever made Smitten Kitchen’s Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes? No? Well if a big bowlful of cozy lentils, tomatoes and sweet carrots — almost a lentil chili, if you will — sounds appealing to you (and why wouldn’t it?), then you absolutely should. I am telling you that you should.

I am telling you that you should, because I was told — by one of my favorite farmers (and fellow cooking-enthusiasts) — that I should. And I listened to her. Thank goodness. She made it last week and came in raving about it the next day, telling me that it was SO GOOD.  Also, really easy, and it went really well with this… but really just that it was SO GOOD.

“Yeah, it looks pretty good” I said noncommittally, scrolling through the recipe.

“No. You don’t understand: [here she pauses until I look at her; dips her chin; raises her eyebrows, and — giving me her best I-sh*t-you-not face — repeats:] SO GOOD.”

[serious stare]

“Really.”

stewed lentils and tomatoes with DINOSAURS... I mean, dino kale.

I don’t think I can say I’ve ever been intimidated into stewing lentils before. I still can’t — because I actually wanted to make it anyway, and therefore was not actually coerced into it — but I tell you it was a close call.

In addition to my friend’s, er, recommendation… it didn’t hurt that I conveniently had two carrots languishing in my crisper, and a bunch of green lentils I’d bought a few years ago that had almost reached the end of their sad shelf-life. Here was an opportunity to be resourceful and thrifty. So today, after a few mundane Sunday tasks, I dusted off my lentils, dragged out my carrots, and got to work.

I’m not going to retype the recipe, since I followed Deb’s almost word for word. I deviated only in using fire-roasted whole tomatoes, roughly cut up (rather than pureed) so I got big delicious chunks of them, and in adding a 1/8 teaspoon of mesquite-smoked chili pepper to increase the heat slightly.

The only thing I did differently is to add some kale — okay, a lot of kale — as I was really craving greens. (In fact, generally speaking, I prefer the majority of my (non-breakfast) meals to be at least one-third green.)

Rather than stewing it with the lentils, however, I decided to quickly half sautee/half steam it in a touch of olive oil and serve the lentils over it — just like you might with rice and chili. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I did this… maybe because these slightly spicy, tomatoey lentils reminded me of chili? Or maybe for aesthetic reasons, to keep the greens greener? Either way, I’m glad I did, because it allowed me to pack in a lot of greens without diluting or changing the flavor of the lentils and tomatoes.

The finished dish was just perfect: warm, flavorful, nourishing, with just the right play of textures. It was exactly what I wanted after a week of going out, running around in the snow, having my coat stolen, and ending one too many nights with one too many dirty martinis.

lentils, ready for their close-up.

Stewed Lentils and Tomatoes with Kale

First, follow Deb’s recipe.

When that’s done, and you’re ready to eat because it smells amazing and you’re ravenous (but you can’t yet because it’s still too hot), wash your kale and shake off excess water — no need to pat it dry. If the stems bother you, you can cut the leaves away from the thicker parts of the stems. If you’re lazy like me stems don’t bother you, just cut them crosswise into 1/2 – 1 inch strips, and then give them a quick chop down the middle so you don’t end up with long unwieldy ribbons.

Sautee kale in a frying pan with a touch of olive oil and  whatever water is still clinging to their leaves. You can salt them if you want to, but my lentils came out salty (probably because the fire roasted tomatoes were salted), so I didn’t. Cover with a lid to steam for a minute or two, until they’re bright or deep green.

Now, put it all together. Push kale into your favorite bowl — I used about half the kale in one bowl — and spoon hot lentils and tomatoes on top. Pat yourself on the back for having prepared such a thrifty, nutritious, animal-friendly meal. Then turn to the nearest window and stick your tongue out at the winter chill.

Enjoy.

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