Monday mornings in our house are stacked up, over-scheduled, frequently chaotic, rarely comfortable, always short on time, long on attitude and can, but only if we let them, set the tone for the entire week. This week, I didn't let it get to me. I rose at 6am to meditate (yes, I am becoming one of those people) in a quiet house before anyone else needed anything, waded through the detritus left over from a weekend filled with activities and house guests, met the electricians at the front door in my jammies, showered, woke the kids, served three different breakfasts, sent everyone off to their respective educational venues...blah blah blah...this is not the point I'm trying to make here...
When the dust settled, what I saw stretched out in front of me like a path of endless possibilities paved with DSW coupons and lined with honeycrisp apple trees, was an opportunity. What I realized was I had a beautiful, newly remodeled kitchen and a whole day ahead of me to spend cooking whatever inspired me.
Now, you must know that culinary inspiration at my house comes mainly in the form of a popular periodical. I will not apologize for this. I am not one of those people who can consult the almanac, sweep out to their garden and create something from what grew there that day. Now, my friend Julie, she's like that, and she posted about a roasted red pepper and corn chowder yesterday where she actually roasted the red peppers herself instead of buying them in that cute, skinny jar. This is a girl with a garden brimming with culinary inspiration...I fully believe this woman is capable of growing everything from mayonnaise to birthday cake...but I digress.
On this particular Monday I was inspired by a recipe for lentils (an underwhelming legume that I hear is good for me, but I'm not convinced). My interest piqued by a declaration of spiciness and the addition of onions and tomatoes (a slam dunk favorite in this house), I prepared my list. Feeling kind of plucky and reminded of the fact that I had ALL day, the plan was to also make whole wheat pitas to accompany our stew (the mother in me was thinking, if the girls won't eat the lentils at least they'll have bread to fill them up.)
Fast forward through 7 hours of the day, a playdate, a pre-school pick-up, 2 art projects made from leftover lentils, the clean-up of one shoe covered with dog poop, 3 episodes of Go! Diego! Go!, 2 pages of math homework, 1 drill of spelling words and we all found ourselves gathered at the table gazing down at plates of Spicy Ethiopian Lentil Stew, black quinoa and fresh whole wheat pitas. The smell was amazing. The visual appeal was undeniable.
The first bite was...
Begrudgingly swallowed by the oldest sister, who was clearly unhappy about her meal but knows better than to insult the chef.
Tentatively picked at by the middle bit, who refused to touch any more of the "contaminated" rice and wanted to know if drinking her milk counted as dinner.
Completely rejected by the smallest one in the house, who proceeded to gag and carefully avoid any contact with her plate while inhaling her pita.
And thoroughly enjoyed by the Father and me, who instantly labeled it a "repeat" dish to be added to our collection. The spices were fabulous. The textures complex and foreign, but wonderful. Yum.
The meal came to a close with very little drama. We don't fight about food in our house. I serve a meal. One meal. And that's what's for dinner. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it, but there will be no substitutes. On this night my children ate bread and milk for the evening meal, engaged in polite conversation and brought their mostly full plates to the sink when they were finished...and this is where the side dish comes in. As I was scraping picked-at, cold, brown food into the sink I was overwhelmed with the amount of waste, feeling guilty about what I was washing down the sink and it was all made worse by the fact that this exotic masterpiece was entitled:
Ethiopian Lentil Stew.
Ethiopian, as in starving children in Africa. Ethiopian, as in all of those TV images we were barraged with in the '80s and '90s. Ugh. Guilt. This is one of those unpleasant moments my meditation teacher keeps telling me to try and experience fully. To really be present in. Well I was certainly present in this one. It felt awful and smelled like cloves. It stirred up thoughts about waste and what I take for granted. It stung a bit that I stood there and wiped down a gorgeous new sink and counter top when there are so many people losing their homes these days. I also heaped on a bit of self judgment about sending my kids to bed hungry and subjecting them to wacky food when a grilled cheese might have made them happier. And then when I got to the very bottom, I started to try and make myself feel better by telling myself I don't take things for granted, and it's good for these girls to be exposed to new foods. Right? Right. A lot of mental junk over a few beans going down the sink.
And that's really all it was. These days I'm trying to see things for what they are. Not what I make them into. Simple to say. Not easy to do.
So what's this all about? My point? Part confession about being bound to my recipes. Part declaration about how exotic I can be on a Monday afternoon. Part finding a way to post a recipe I thought was delightful without just simply copying the ingredients. Part admission that my very adventurous eaters DO occasionally summarily reject one of my culinary masterpieces. Part being very grateful for what I have. Part writing it down because that makes it more real.
Real. Yes. They were really just lentils. And I'm going to put aside the guilt.
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
- 2 cups chopped red onion
- 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Berbere spice
- 3 cups organic vegetable broth
- 1 cup dried small red lentils
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 4 cups hot cooked basmati rice
1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 15 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add ginger and garlic; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in tomato paste and Berbere spice; cook 1 minute, stirring to combine. Gradually add broth, stirring with a whisk until blended. Increase heat to medium-high; bring to a simmer.
2. Rinse lentils until cold water; drain. Add lentils to broth mixture; simmer, partially covered, 35 minutes or until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in salt. Sprinkle with cilantro; serve over rice.
Fat:3.9g (sat 0.3g,mono 1g,poly 1g)
Domenica Marchetti, Cooking Light, MAY 2010