Tuesday, May 5, 2009

City Kitchen Chronicles: Lentils with Burnt Onions

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

I never thought of myself as liking lentils particularly much. Sure, lentil soup can be great, but lentils themselves? Meh. And then a couple of weeks ago I made a big batch for some in-the-end underwhelming lentil burgers, and had about a cup of lentils leftover. I took a bite. I added a little salt. A bit of ketchup. And I was in heaven.

Lentils, like beans and kale, are a food I’m happy to discover a love of. They’re super-cheap, going for $1.65/lb or so by me, and super-healthy, an excellent source of fiber, iron, B-vitamins, and good vegetably protein.

So when I was catching up on some blog reading (right now my bloglines subscriptions have 1068 unread items – whoops?) and came across a recipe for burnt onions over lentils and rice, my attention was piqued.

Let me get this straight – as tasty as carmelized onions, but twice as fast and way less precise to make? And goes great over cheap healthy superstars lentils and rice? All with ingredients I have?

Mark Bittman says, “Burn those onions,” and I say, “Okay!”

The Bitten post opens with an exchange that makes me feel like all this time there’s been a division in the world I didn’t even know existed – between those who know about burnt onions, and those who don’t:
A friend came over the other day.

“What did you have for lunch?”
he asked.

“Lentils and rice.”

“I hope you made crispy
burnt onions.”

As a matter of fact I had, and we had a communing
food moment about how this was one of the greatest pairings ever.
I had no idea! But, well, now I do (or did), and I set to work pretty quickly. I had lentils and rice, I had a nice big yellow onion. I can’t really bear to make a meal without some good vegetable representation (and can’t bear to let onions be the only ones), so I added some diced carrots (Why does no one ever talk about how dirt cheap carrots are? $0.79/lb. It’s amazing.) and a few handfuls of baby spinach, a bit of a splurge, for that I’m-eating-green-vegetables feeling.

While the vegetables were cooking I kept worrying over my lentils and rice. Cooked plain and mixed together they were so bland, and even salt wasn’t bringing out any flavor. My thoughts turned to my beloved lentil soup recipe, and I reached for balsamic vinegar. Turns out I’m a total freaking genius – the sweet/sour vinegar with the sweet/bitter onions is magical.

Not that the moral here is “I’m a genius.” It’s more “this is a delicious, easy meal” and “Thank you Mark Bittman.” I’m very glad to be in the burnt-onion club, and invite you to join in as well.

(Note that if you’re going to be reheating this for lunches, you may want to omit the spinach. It can get weird and oddly overpowering after the microwave. This also cuts each serving’s cost by about $0.30.)

Lentils with Burnt Onions (And Some Other Things)
(adapted from Mark Bittman)
serves 2, but easily increasable

1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup cooked lentils (use black or green – red lentils will turn to mush)
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
3 medium carrots, diced
a few handfuls of baby spinach (about 1 cup)
1 T canola or mild olive oil
3 T balsamic vinegar, or to taste
salt to taste

1) Heat oil in a pan over medium-high. When it’s good and hot, add the onions (they should sizzle). Add a little salt.

2) Cook onions until they start to brown, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat a little, and keep cooking, stirring more frequently.

3) In the meantime, combine lentils and rice in a big bowl. Salt to taste. Add balsamic vinegar, set aside.

4) When the onions are pretty shriveled, about 15 minutes or so, add the carrots, and cook until onions are blackened and blistered in spots. (Add your carrots earlier if you like them more cooked.)

5) Stir in spinach; cook just until it’s wilted.

6) Add veggies to rice and lentil mixture. Salt to taste. Enjoy!

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
384.5 calories, 9 g fat, $1.08

1 cup cooked brown rice: 215 calories, 2 g fat, $0.11
1 cup cooked lentils: 220 calories, 1 g fat, $0.37
2 medium onions: 88 calories, 0.5 g fat, $0.40
3 medium carrots: 75 calories, 0.5 g fat, $0.25
1 cup baby spinach: 7 calories, 0 g fat, $0.63
1 T canola oil: 124 calories, 14 g fat, $0.07
3 T balsamic vinegar: 40 calories, 0 g fat, $0.30
salt to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTAL: 769 calories, 18 g fat, $2.15
PER SERVING (TOTAL/2): 384.5 calories, 9 g fat, $1.08

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Thumperdd said...

Anything with burnt onions has to be heaven!

By the way, I've given you a Kreativ Blogger Award. Love your recipes and the great breakdowns you give us! http://knittingintherealworld.blogspot.com/2009/05/kreativ-blogger-award.html


Sharon said...

We LOVE lentils here. My 9 year old daughter just goes nuts when I make them. Just cooked up - a little on the saucy side with a bunch of curry and cayenne, served over rice. It's fast food at lunch when I use the rice maker. Just set it up and ignore for a while - presto! Lunch.

Thanks for the good looking new idea! I'll definitely be trying it out.

Clea said...

I am so bookmarking this recipe! Mmm, balsamic vinegar and lentils-- why didn't I think of that?

Along the lines of lentils and rice, Veganomicon has a really good recipe for that. I highly recommend it. And while you're on the lentil bandwagon, buy yourself some tamarind paste (in the Indian section of the grocery store, or an Indian grocer) and make the tamarind lentils. So. damn. good. And after THAT, if you're still not a lentil fanatic, make the snobby joes from theppk.com. Even lentil-haters like that one.

I used to be "meh" on lentils myself, but it turns out some of my favorite recipes are lentil-filled now. I also really like Dreena Burton's "mellow lentil sniffle soup," pretty sure it's on her blog.

Finally, I'm determined to fix your lentil burger woes: I just made this recipe (http://happyveganface.blogspot.com/2009/03/smoky-n-spicy-lentil-potato-quinoa.html) and my boyfriend and I love them. Jessy is really good at doing a bean/legume+grain+awesome spices= instant burger thing. I've made many of her burgers, and have gotten great ideas from there.

Those are all made with brown lentils. Red are another story...then you get into red lentil hummus (which I have yet to make), dhal (amazing), great tomato sauce with red lentils...I'll stop there.

But really, please try the aforementioned in your lentil-venture!

Amy said...

That is a beautiful photo of your improvisation! I appreciate lentils but wasn't "feeling it" for the recipe until I saw the photo. I might just have to try this tonight!