Like everyone with any sense, I love spring. I love its almost-ness, its in-between-ness, its –ish-ness, if you follow. You know…the coolish mornings that swell into warmish afternoons before sinking back into briskish evenings. Perfect for suiting up the family and heading off on an evening walk, as the sun sinks just a smidgen more slowly than it did yesterday:
And, of course, I love its greenness, its fragrance (although my husband recently remarked that the viburnum blooming by our front door always puts him in mind of Shirley, his retired department chair, with wadded up tissues in the palms of her hands and some kind of floral mist hanging about her firmly set curls), and even its spongey quality. (Of course, I won’t claim to enjoy the mud quite as much as my children, for whom the pit they have systematically dug in our back yard functions even better than a swimming hole precisely because its slime, unlike actual water, doesn’t dry clear but rather coats them in a faintly reptilian brown glaze. Thank goodness I invented an outdoor shower, which I’ll have to share with you sometime– as soon as I give up on the dream of patenting it–so that the three of them can be restored to proper mammalian pinkness before being readmitted into the house.)
All that said, I sometimes find myself a little let down by spring because, here in the middle of the country, it takes so long after the weather starts to suggest fertility, for much of anything edible to crop up. Salad greens are an obvious exception. And onions (which you may recall I love). But no fruit. No beans. Nothing of substance, not for a good while. And yet, the blue skies are whispering about tomato sandwiches and the green shoots popping up in my garden have me dreaming about tender little potatoes, and everything around me says it’s time to shrug off the wintry manicotti and move on to greener pastures. And that’s why, if you asked me, it’s a good time to make strategic use of some dried veggies in the pantry. No, I’m not thinking of okra jerky. (Is there such a thing?) I’m thinking of these:
Beautiful red lentils. Although more orange than red, they are certainly lovelier than their green or brown siblings. Jewel-toned, the way dried vegetables ought to be in the spring.
Of course, I make this same dish with green ones and brown ones, but it’s not quite as pretty or bright that way…and it takes a little longer to cook.
Here’s what I did with my lentils and rice:
By the way, I think recipe slides it at about $6 for the whole pot. That’s maybe $1.25 per serving, budget-minded cooks! If you’re interested in doing it, too…
Smoky Red Lentils with Fried Sweet Onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 regular old yellow onion
2 stalks of celery
2 or 3 fat cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ancho chili
salt and pepper (to taste)
1 pound dried red lentils, rinsed
4 cups vegetable broth + 2 cups water
juice of 1 fat lime
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes (or salsa-style tomatoes)
2 cups cooked rice
1 fried sweet onion (Read about that recipe here)
1. Chop your veggies.
2. Heat your olive oil in a big pot over medium heat. Then add your chopped veggies and garlic.
3. When they are softened, add your smoked paprika and ground ancho chili. Stir well and cook until it smells toasty and delicous. Salt generously.
4. Add your well rinsed lentils.
Aren’t they pretty? I’m not a caviar kind of gal, but that’s what these always remind me of. Of course, they don’t stay quite so opulent, once you’ve cooked them, so enjoy their glow while they’re still in the colander.
5. Add the broth, water, and canned tomatoes, including the juices. Stir well.
6. Simmer until the lentils are tender and just beginning to break down. That won’t take too long–maybe 15 or 20 minutes. If you’re using brown or green lentils, it will take a bit longer.
7. In the meantime, fry your onions and cook your rice. (I happened to have some left over from the previous night. If you need a good rice recipe, try Cook’s Illustrated’s method: 2 cups rice–rinsed well and shaken dry–to 3 cups water or broth. First toast the well-rinsed rice in a tablespoon of butter or oil. Add some salt, if you’re using water. Then add 3 cups of broth or water. Cover and cook for about 12-15 minutes. Then turn it off and let sit for a few minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve. It’s perfect every time.)
8. Just before you serve the lentils, add the juice of one lime. That gives it the burst of fresh you’re longing for. (It’s spring, after all, people!)
9. Top the lentils with a scoop of rice and a little leaning tower of fried onions.
Open the windows and listen while you eat. Someone is mowing his lawn on the next street over. If your neighborhood is very fussy, someone else is blowing away the detritus of leaves from beneath his bursting hedge. And, silently, summer is stalking you. The tomatoes are setting themselves right now, under the bustling mouths of eager bees. The potatoes are sucking in last night’s rain. And anticipation tastes almost as good as fried onions. Almost 🙂