Winter Welcome-Back!




I’m back! What has happened since I last posted:

-my birthday
-mad studying for exams
-completion of exams
-general exhaustion lasting several days
-CHRISTMAS! My favourite holiday!
-general merriment, ongoing

Term definitely ended with a flurry. I was not aware that it is, in fact, possible to study for 15 hours with three twenty minute breaks and not die. So that is good to know. The grades are trickling back in, at a pace slower than my liking, but so far the trend is that working as hard as I possibly could has paid off (fingers crossed!).

For those of you who have participated in an exam period at any point in your life, you know that it is an inhumane state of being, punctuated by poor food, “socks and showers optional” theories, no sleep, and regularly occurring hysteria. Running to the cafeteria to weigh the possibilities of the cheapest dinner possible, because you simply can’t afford the time it takes to get home and back, became a daily event. I was surprised that I was caught up in this poor quality of eating- I made a huge pot of soup, muffins, ginger loaf, and stocked the fridge well before exams had started. This, I figured, was a surefire way to have proper nutrition. Readily available food at home! I’ll never turn to convenience.

The problem with this strategy is that it relied on the term “home”. In exam period, the quant little basement suite I have been calling “home” for the last four month, became a place I rarely made it to. The library, of its many floors and valuable desk space, became “home”, and all that was there was caf food. Sure, I tried to pack food, but do you know how large of a bag you need to carry enough food to sustain you from 8:30 am to 12:00 am? A freaking huge bag, that is really difficult to maneuver with your other huge bag of textbooks, and pretty soon you’re the sweating bag lady who didn’t notice that her container of lentils popped its lid twenty minutes ago and is making the whole place smell like garlic. So, I saved the sore back and harsh judgments by packing my wallet instead. Yes, it is much less than ideal and not something I would want to do in the “real world” but we are speaking of the totally anarchy that is exams. Judgment cannot be bore on people in that state.

Maybe if the people in the library had tasted those lentils though…then they might be humming a different tune! The ultimate comfort food, lentils are warm and filling, without leaving you with that heavy “I just ate so much fat” feeling. It’s a nice change from all the meat laden holiday food. I make lentils, in their various preparations, about once a week then enjoy them for lunch on many subsequent days. They are a great way to have a hearty, meatless dish through your week. Alternatively, they also taste great with sausage stirred on, or as a side for other proteins. I personally love serving lentils with salmon and pork chops. Here is a recipe for a warm lentil salad, adapted from a lovely one at Guilty Kitchen (http://guiltykitchen.com/2010/10/18/warm-lentil-salad/). I usually prepare my lentils with the same cheesecloth style, then toss it with a pretty plain vinaigrette, so I thought I’d give this one a try! The key difference I made is in the smoked paprika- it takes it to a whole different level! It is very student friendly, as dried lentils are crazy cheap, and only requires a pot and a piece of cheesecloth. Notice that I said DRIED lentils not canned, if you get the canned lentils and boil them for 30 minutes you will end up with mush. Plus, good, dried lentils taste so much better than canned lentils, are cheap, and easy to prepare. Look for them in the bulk food section, and stock up!

Warm Lentil Salad

This recipe has been a long time coming, but here it is (just in time for a Christmas present, hey Brett!). It’s nice to be back.

2 c lentils**
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves (optional-I know they’re not for everyone!)
10 black peppercorns
2 star anise (very tasty, but could potentially be left out if the pantry is bare)
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks

1) First off, you are going to want to gather up your garlic, spices, onion, and carrot in a piece of cheesecloth. Tie it up very tight or secure it with a piece of string.

2) In a large pot, place your lentils and cheesecloth on the bottom. Fill the pot up with water, making sure that the water line covers the lentils by at least three inches. (Want to speed up the cooking process a bit? Use boiling water from the kettle).

3) Turn your stovetop to medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Once at a healthy rolling boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. This is the part where you can “walk away” aka make the dressing. Don’t forget about the lentils- they are going to need 30-40 minutes to get nice and tender, but make sure to check them regularly. If the water level is looking a little low, add another cup. Check the tenderness occasionally- you don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised that the lentils are taking way longer to cook (which may be the case with older lentils), so its nice to keep tabs on the lentils throughout. When the lentils taste like they are very close to done, do not add any more water even if it seems to have mostly disappeared. Ideally, you would like to end up with perfectly cooked lentils with no extra water.

4) When the lentils are tender, but aren’t breaking apart to mush, they are done. Remove the cheesecloth. If there is a lot of extra water, ladle or spoon it out. Stir in the dressing below and serve warm. (OPTIONAL: add cooked sausage or greens such as chard or arugula at this point).

**There are many different kinds of lentils, each with their own specialties. For this recipe I love puy lentils (also known as French lentils), but I did not put that on the list of ingredients because you can make this recipe with ANY lentils that are carried at your grocer. Don’t let yourself get hung up if you don’t have puy! Look for them first, but anything else is fine.

Dressing

Juice and zest of 1 lime
¼ c plain yogurt
1 Tbsp honey
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika (or more, to taste)
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
½ c chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper
Drizzle of olive oil

1) Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Tastes best if allowed to sit in the fridge, preferably for at least half an hour. If you can’t spare the time, just toss it in!

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