A good portion of our income in seasonal, so in the winter and early spring months, we’re left tightening our budget and letting go of that hard earned green stuff to pay off our electric bill that heightens over the colder months. So, like any human being looking for a full belly on a small dime will tell you, they tend to revert to eating beans and rice. There’s nothing bad about this. I used to hate beans and rice, but now, we eat them happily (which is a good thing.)
Whether it’s beans, lentils or split peas, we love cooking them with stock. This is why it’s good to pick some up at the store, or save your spare veggie and bone scraps. The ratio I’ve found useful for beans (without cooking them to a mushy pulp) is about 3:1. This is three cups water/stock to one-cup beans/lentils/split peas.
Depending on what your taste is, veggie or chicken stock will be your main cooking liquid. I like to save my beef stock for stews and anything I’m braising with red wine. By the way, lentils are amazing if cooked with red wine and beef stock. It takes a humble staple and jacks them up to a new level of greatness. The way I see it, if you can make beans taste good, then you have nothing to worry about.
This is my recipe for a simple bowl of lentils. It’s filling and really hits the spot.
(Serves two Harrod Casper-sized appetites!)
1 cup lentils
3 cups chicken, veggie or beef stock
1-2 tsp. kosher salt (or ½ - ¾ tsp. table salt)
1 small yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ tsp. yellow curry
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 bay leaf
A few dashes of hot sauce
A tiny pinch of cayenne pepper (if you want some heat)
What you’ll do:
Heat up a tablespoon or so of oil (or bacon fat, if you have it!) Throw in your onions and garlic and sauté till the onions begin to turn translucent. While the onions and garlic are cooking, add your spices: salt, pepper, curry and cumin. Let them cook into the onions.
You want it to look somewhat pasty. These are your base flavors and will make your house smell utterly ridiculous. (In a good way, of course!)
After your onions are done, add your stock, bay leaf and hot sauce. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Add your lentils and cook till tender – about 30-40 minutes. I like a little chew with my lentils, but feel free to cook them however short or long you like them. And let’s be honest, they’re lentils. You can pretty much add whatever you want to them.
Also, you’re salt tolerance may affect the outcome, so start small and add more as you like. Remember, as you reduce stock, its flavors become more concentrated.
If making red beans, I’d generally leave out the curry and cumin, while adding some cayenne and hot sauce. Add to your taste, of course. Always remember to soak your beans overnight, if you can. There is a noticeable difference in the mouth-feel, but you’re not completely up the creek if you forget.
When making split pea soup, I use all of these same ingredients, but really try to use bacon if possible. At our local market, they sell bacon ends and pieces. These are really useful if you don’t want to use a ham hock. I like to render out the bacon fat to sauté my onions with. Then, when the soup is almost done, I throw in my bacon pieces and serve it with a little bit of crème fraiche on top.
I was actually just reading that cultured cream on top of beans, lentils and split peas help you to process their nutrients more efficiently. How rad is that? Plus, it gives your soup an extra creamy layer. What’s not to like!?
So, if you ever have any questions, feel free to comment! I’m a nerd about this stuff, so I’d love to be useful about it.
Happy cookin’ and bon appétit!