Thursday, April 22, 2010

one-pot lentils and quinoa

I was watching Lidia the other day: the episode where she visits an Italian farm where a woman raises rare, heritage poultry breeds. I love Lidia: love how she begins every dish with garlic sizzling in lots of olive oil, love how she says Itly, instead of Italy, just like my tiny Italian grandmother did, love how she holds court in that awesome kitchen of hers like the matriarch that she is. When Lidia returns to her kitchen on Long Island, she roasts a lovely, fat duck, and serves it with a one-pot side dish of lentils and rice. One pot! That's my kind of Tuesday night meal (well, minus the roast duck; no way thats happening on a weeknight).

I love making lentils for dinner during the week, since unlike most bean varieties they do not need to be presoaked and cook quickly. For my one-pot meal, I decided to replace rice with quinoa, my favorite pseudo-grain, which, like lentils, is quick-cooking and doesnt need to be pre-soaked.

This simple dish could be a side or a main course, depending on the situation. It starts with the usual combination of vegetables and aromatics - onion, carrot, celery, garlic - whizzed in the food processor till finely minced. (Lidia also threw in some pancetta, which I didnt have in the fridge. No problem, I just added some smoked paprika later on -- not quite the same effect as pork, but it adds a nice smokiness). Saute the veg mixture for a few minutes in olive oil, stir in a spoonful of tomato paste, and deglaze with white wine, savoring the resulting whiff of deliciously fragrant steam. In go the lentils, spices, and water. Simmer. Quinoa hops in. Simmer some more. Stir in fresh herbs.

And, voila, its done: tender lentils and rice, cooked to a creamy, risotto-like consistency. No, I cannot report that these lentils and quinoa were accompanied by pieces of succulent roast duck, its skin burnished and crisp. Maybe next time. But this protein-packed combination performed very well on its own, accompanied by a tumble of quickly sautéed kale. A delicious, home-cooked weeknight dinner. 

To finish the dish, I drizzled the lentils and quinoa with good extra virgin olive oil: as Lidia says, to make it glow. Or is it glisten? Or shine? Oops, I cant remember right now. Either way, it always feels like the right thing to do.

one-pot lentils and quinoa
Inspired by Lidia's Lentils and Rice

extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sized onion
2 carrots
2 celery ribs
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used a lemony sauvignon blanc from Chile)
1 cup green lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper

1. Pulse the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in a food processor (or chop by hand) until finely minced.

2. Heat 2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil in a pot, add vegetable mixture and a pinch of salt, and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and are fragrant, about 5 minutes. 

3. Clear a spot in the pan (Lidia referred to it as a hot spot), add the tomato paste, stir it in the spot for a minute or so, and then stir to combine with the vegetables (Im not sure exactly what this accomplishes, maybe it amps up the flavor of the tomato paste before it gets mixed in with the vegetables? Who knows. Lidia did it, so I did it.)

4. Add wine, stir to deglaze, and simmer for a few minutes until almost completely evaporated. 

5. Stir in lentils, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes. Add 2-1/2 cups of hot water (I boiled it in a tea kettle; adding hot just makes things go more quickly), bay leaf, and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the liquid level and add a bit more water if it looks like the lentils are getting too dry.

6. Add quinoa and an additional cup of hot water. Cook for about 20 minutes, until lentils and quinoa are tender. (Lidia said she was aiming for the texture of risotto, moist but not soupy, so I did the same. The dish is pretty forgiving, so you can add water if needed, or let it cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end to dry it out a bit). Stir in fresh herbs and 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. 

7. Drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil before serving.

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