All this talk of blizzards has taken me back to my college days. I remember the historic blizzard of ’78, when I was a freshman at Brandeis and 36 inches of snow fell in the Boston area in 24 hours; campus was closed for a week, we ran out of (bad) food and medical supplies…it was a memorable time.
I became a vegetarian during my time there precisely because the food was so bad. If you took a piece of meat, you wound up with a wad of nasty gristle in your mouth and no socially acceptable way to remove it.
In the 1970’s, vegetarian food often took the form of pretend meat. You still see some of this sort of thing today, but it is much less prevalent. Things like “lentil loaf” were all the rage in those veggie cafes in Harvard Square. You know, the place with spider plants hanging from beaded macrame’ contraptions in the window.
I mistrusted lentils for a lot of years after that. In fact, I grew to mistrust anything that masqueraded as something else. This is a big issue for me now during my kitchen renovation. There are a lot of things pretending to be other things in the construction industry: vinyl pretending to be wood, “composite” that is supposed to look like stone; I want genuine. All this pretending makes me grumpy. So…it turns out that the lentil is just yummy if you don’t grind it up and try to make fake meatloaf.
Having recovered from lentil loaf trauma in the last decade or so, I have rediscovered the lentil and embraced it anew. The popularity and easy availability of the French Puy lentils has helped my healing enormously. I adore them! I make lentil soups with and without meat. I make lentil salads with walnuts and feta. I do a warm lentil salad with carrots and shallots and serve roasted salmon on top. The Cook’s Illustrated folks have convinced me that brining the lentils (not necessary for this dish) can be the key to a perfect preparation.
Now that my kitchen is beyond demolished and I am cooking on a hot plate, (during a snow storm) stews have become very appealing. We are so wiped out at the end of these stressful demolition days, most nights, we fill our wood fired bowls and take our stew up through the wreck to our bed and hunker down with some authentic, no-pretense-anywhere, healthy, one pot food.
Lentil Stew with Artichokes
Jerusalem Artichokes are neither artichokes nor from Jerusalem, but they have an artichokey sort of taste and I love them here. If you can’t find them, you might substitute potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, or turnips, or simply leave them out.
Serves 4 or 2 with enough for tomorrow; this is great left over.
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
2 tbs. neutral cooking oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 lb. Jerusalem artichoke, cleaned and cut in chunks
2 cups lentils (I like Puy)
¼ cup white wine
14 oz can crushed tomatoes (I like muir glen)
32 oz stock, veg or chicken
1 box frozen quartered artichoke hearts
Garnishes: sour cream or greek yogurt, scallion, parmesan cheese
Saute’ the leek in the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium high heat for a few minutes. Add the carrot and Jerusalem artichoke and cook for five minutes or so. Add the lentil and stir to coat with oil and let them get a little heat. Add the wine and stir, scraping the pan bottom to dislodge and brown goodies on the bottom. Next, the tomatoes and stock go in. Bring everything to a boil and then reduce to simmer and put a lid on the pot. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Toward the end of the time, check often to see if the lentils are cooked through. The best way to tell is to taste a few. You want them just tender. Don’t let them overcook or they will be mushy, not a disaster, but not so nice, either. When the lentils are right, add the frozen artichokes and cook for just a few more minutes until they are hot. This happens faster than you might think.