Monthly Archives: April 2011

Getting Fast and Dirty with … Pasta and Lentils

Breaking the silence

I stopped blogging back in October. It’s been a long time without The Dragon Fruit in my life! I moved away from San Francisco, did some traveling, and am settling into my new home in Brooklyn. With all that moving around, I often lacked access to a kitchen. No cooking, no blogging. But I’ve got a kitchen now and I’m ready to blog and cook, with a spatula in one hand and my camera in the other.

Ceci n'est pas une cuillere.

No spatula? No problem!

OK, so that was kind of a lie. I don’t have a spatula right now. I don’t have a lot of things. My movers haven’t yet arrived with my stuff. My belongings – including my kitchen stuff – are still somewhere between California and New York. In the meantime, I’m cooking with a stripped-down set of cookware. No spatulas. Just a few things to get by while still in transition.

Until then, this item on the right is my spatula.

I don’t think I can flip an egg with it, but since I’m cooking vegan food, so what? 🙂

No energy? That’s another story …

Anyone who has seen the show Top Chef understands that you don’t need fancy equipment to produce an excellent meal. A great cook can make something really delicious anywhere, even in a dorm. Hubert Keller made killer mac n’ cheese with just a hot plate, a toaster oven, and … a shower.

Anyone who has eaten take-out for dinner at 10 p.m. knows that the most formidable obstacles to cooking your own food are time and energy. Even with a fully stocked kitchen, there were many times in San Francisco when my best efforts in the kitchen amounted to peeling the foil off a burrito and putting it on a plate. Then yes, I ate it while watching Top Chef. I can tell you this – Hubert Keller didn’t have a kitchen sink, but he persevered because he was full of vim and vigor. And some major derring-do.

So what happens when you have no vim, no vigor, and nary a spatula within reach? Before you high-tail it to the taqueria, consider whether it might just be easier to cook up some pasta with lentils.

"Keep smilin' ... keep shinin' ... knowing you can always count on me. For sure. That's what friends are for!" -- Dionne Warwick and Friends

The lentil is your friend

I love burritos. Don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t hurt to mix things up a bit, especially if you’ve already had burritos three times this week and since your loyal friend, the humble canned lentil, is so easily transformed into a deeply satisfying meal.

Pasta is of course an obviously quick and easy meal. Adding lentils into the mix not only increases the nutritional value of the meal by providing protein, fiber, and legume-y (yup, that’s a word) nutrients, but also adds extra heft and more texture – effortlessly. You just pop open the can.

Lentils can complement many meals because their flavor is not overpowering and, as they say, plays well with others.

Here’s some ideas to get you started. You don’t need any fancy equipment. You don’t even necessarily need a can opener. You just need the time it takes to boil pasta, and a little derring-do of your own to push through those days when you’re short on time and energy but long on hunger.

Yes, dried lentils that you soak and cook yourself will produce a better result, but canned lentils will really do in a pinch.

I made this first dish using a spoon as a spatula in my nearly empty apartment when I was very tired and very starving. I felt so much better after eating this nourishing, home-cooked meal, which came together quite quickly. (No showers were used to prepare the meal.  I’m no master chef, so I’ll leave the advanced techniques to the professionals!)

The walnuts and lentils were the key textural, flavor, and nutritional elements that really made this dish noteworthy.

Also, I have Cambodian Kampot pepper on hand – which I like to use very liberally.

Pasta Spirals with Lentils & Seared Yellow Peppers

Serves 2

Minimal effort. Maximum satisfaction!

Ingredients

2 servings whole wheat pasta (Trader Joe’s Organic Whole Wheat Rotelle is GREAT)
1 yellow pepper
1-2 cloves garlic
2 tsp olive oil
Salt
Pepper, preferably one of excellent quality such as Cambodian Kampot pepper
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 can lentils, drained
1 cup greens (can be any kind – spinach, even a salad mix, which I used) 
 

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions or al dente.

While water for pasta is boiling, roughly chop a yellow bell pepper and chop garlic. Place peppers in medium or large skillet, turn heat on high.  When skillet reaches high heat, drizzle olive oil over peppers and reduce heat if needed to prevent scorching. Add salt and pepper to taste.  (I like to add a ton of black pepper.) Cook on high heat until peppers soften and darken to your desired texture.

Add chopped garlic and stir. Add sliced almonds and chopped walnuts.   (You could toast these in a dry skillet before cooking the peppers.) Reduce heat and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Add lentils (do not add the liquid from the can) and stir. Keep on medium or low heat until pasta finishes cooking.

Drain pasta. Toss with pepper and lentil mixture.

Wilt greens in the pot you used to cool the pasta – place greens in pot on medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes until they just wilt. Stir into the dish.

Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired. Season to taste.

Easiest Meal Ever

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 servings whole wheat pasta
1/4 – 1/2 jar of tomato sauce
1 can of lentils, drained
Salt & pepper
 

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat tomato sauce in a pan with lentils (do not add the liquid from the can).

Toss together and season with salt and pepper.

Optional:  Drizzle with olive oil.

Bonus Points:  Before you heat the tomato sauce, crush and chop a clove or two of garlic. Add oil to the saucepan, cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes on medium heat, then add the tomato sauce and lentils. If you’ve got some pre-washed veggies on hand, have a salad on the side. Easy, easy, easy – but still very satisfying.

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